Friday, 13 February 2015

Film Review: What If

Valentine's Day means one thing - rom-coms! Earlier in the week I reviewed Playing It Cool, and up next was What If, a cute little film starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan. 

It's about two friends who can't figure out if they want to go further - so, how does it stack up?

It might be something only I do, but I generally pick films to watch based on the cast - even if the premise sounds super cliche, I'll think "yeah, why not?" if the cast is half-decent. Seeing as Daniel Radcliffe is pretty cool and I wanted to see Adam Driver in something before The Force Awakens, I went with What If, a film that from the outside appears fairly run-of-the-mill when it comes to what you'd expect from rom-coms.

Here's the premise - Daniel Radcliffe plays Wallace, a socially-awkward loner who lives in his sisters attic and is struggling to move on from a bad break-up. Whilst at a party he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) and the two hit it off straight away. The only catch is that she's already in a relationship with Ben (Rafe Spall) and just wants to be best buds with Wallace.

And so begins our rom-com. So far, so archetypical. Except, in the case of What If, the approach from director Michael Dowse is more delicate and intelligent than your usual romantic comedy.

Regardless of how you feel about Radcliffe's past work in the Harry Potter series (growing up on camera has gotta suck, right?), his performance in What If is really great. We've seen it in the past (fans of Ricky Gervais' Extras will know what I mean), but Radcliffe has a genuine talent for comedy. No, I'm not kidding. His delivery and timing is pitch perfect in What If and the chemistry he shares with Kazan gives off heat that'll singe your eyebrows.

Y'know, in a mumbly awkward couple of weirdos kind of way.

Both of the lead character are afforded real depth through the fantastic scriptwork. Wallace and Chantry feel like real people in a real situation, and neither go through the film in way that a real person wouldn't. Their arcs are really well paced as well, the awkward push-pull of their relationship naturally evolving across the narrative rather than being consigned to a cheesy montage soundtracked to Passion Pit.

It feels very natural and true-to-life, not melodramatic or needlessly schmaltzy. I liked that you could tell a lot about what the characters were thinking just by the subtle looks or movements the actors made - a little goes a long way in moments like these.

This also means that when everything comes to a head at the end, the payoff feels meaningful and important, not artificial or strained. The film doesn't rush towards a textbook crescendo like lovers in an airport terminal - no, on the contrary, the conclusion is adorably low-key and suited to the cute tone of the film.

Rafe Spall plays Chantry's boyfriend Ben. He's constructed as the crappy boyfriend you're supposed to hate, even though he's not actually a bad guy. I mean this in a good way though - it's the film showing us that everyone is in this story and his is just another side of it. After all, Wallace and Chantry have feelings for each other whilst Ben is still on the scene - it's kind of like walking on glass and the film delicately handles this dilemma the characters face. On a side note: Rafe Spall can throw a damn good punch!

Adam Driver is a riot as Wallace's roomate Allan. Where Wallace is introverted and quietly witty, Allan is brash and cocksure, but not in an insufferable jerk kind of way.

Lastly, can I just add one thing - Daniel Radcliffe types like a weirdo. I mean, he could've been acting that part but I think he genuinely doesn't know how to use a keyboard properly in real-life. It's like watching my Nan use an iPhone. I guess that's one downside of spending your adolescence at Hogwarts...

The Verdict: 8/10

At first, What If  is all about the spark between its attractive leads, but the simple premise disguises a delicate and surprisingly emotional story that has a lot going for it. The cast, writing and direction are all great. There's not too much this film doesn't have going for it!


  1. Great review! I didn't mind this movie, but it wasn't as good as I had hoped it would be. It actually checked off a lot of rom com cliches that I was hoping they'd leave out, but I love the cast.

    1. Thanks Brittani! :) Shame you didn't love it as much, but that's cool :)

  2. Nice review! I really enjoyed this one as well and loved how witty everyone was without it being unrealistic. (but i kind of hate that the title was changed to What If. I'm just glad Canada kept the original title, The F Word, which I feel fits the movie and it's characters way more than the cliched What If)

    1. Yeah, I agree - What If is amazingly bland and 'The F Word' is a lot more interesting. Thanks for commenting Heather! :)



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