PLOT: A young man (Radcliffe) begins to fall for a young woman (Kazan) who has a boyfriend.
WHO'S IT FOR? Those who watch romantic comedies so that they can have something on while cleaning the house.
With respect to its desire for both romance and comedy What If tries too hard. As in, character-falls-out-of-an-open-window-after-getting-pepper-in-his-eye-and-someone-trying-to-help-accidentally-opens-a-door-on-his-face-and-sends-him-to-the-pavement-two-stories-below trying too hard. This is also the same type of film that genuinely uses impulsive international travel, where characters are given certain ideas of financial constraints, but nonetheless travel back and forth because of the need to have a face-to-face confrontation.
What If is this year’s most misguided romantic comedy and is gravely in need of a punchline; it could be the indie comedy’s They Came Together of 2014 if only there were to be some embrace of how contrived this movie is in its way of expressing itself, or of dressing itself. If only the script were to realize how stale the notion of whimsical animation is in films post Juno, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, or a trillion other titles. Or, if only the movie knew that you can’t cast Daniel Radcliffe as a random Toronto young man with an English accent, and try to downplay the ease of attraction he has to audiences.
The story is strangely the same, with little attempts to be anything else. Radcliffe's broken hearted young man meets Kazan at a party. The two hit it off, but when he walks her home, she drops the boyfriend bomb on him (the movie plays it weirdly so that it seems like she is being sarcastic, or trying to distance herself, until we actually see the boyfriend). But, it sucks being isolated from having friends when committed, so Kazan and Radcliffe embarks on a friendship that is agreed to be platonic ... BUT IS IT?!!!
There are many moments that seem like the illusion of hormonal magnetization, played awkwardly or needlessly, which makes them all the more disappointing considering that this movie is attempting to be the less glamorous romantic comedies - no Nancy Meyers, Matthew McConaughey & Kate Hudson, James Marsden, Katherine Heigl type stuff here. Nope, this is the quirky version! Look at that cartoon of Zoe Kazan fly through the city! Pretty sad and alt, huh?
For example, there’s the opening scene in which we are introduced to Radcliffe’s character. He sits on top of a roof, overlooking the skyline, moping. He then listens to a voicemail that is relayed to us as very old, and pouts over an ex-girlfriend. It’s not only the post-production graphics of the phone in this movie that make this moment awkward, but it’s the forcefulness of this sappy situation, which only leads to Radcliffe then going to a party where he assembles the message “love is stupid” with magnets on a refrigerator. Is this middle school wisdom? Lazy screenwriting?
This type of scene is matched with moments concerning the movie’s center coupling, in which Zoe Kazan and Radcliffe embark on a relationship of radiant obviousness and tension, a tedious type of inevitable gonna-do-it that only has the illusion of not happening. The two play their “friend chemistry” too close to believe that there is a chance they won’t be together; formerly titled “The F Word,” What If only drags its heels. The film’s attempt at asking whether it’s better to cheat on your boyfriend/girlfriend for the purpose of finding love is only really explored with another emblematically overworked sidekick performance from Adam Driver, who meets a woman (Megan Park) at a party and falls for her despite her own commitment to someone else.
At best, this movie is made for those unfamiliar with the formulas, or are not turned away from them. It is a film that feeds into romance’s fascination with the “other man,” the type of love triangle that violates the prettiness of a neat couple, and essentially has the audience hoping that a woman will cheat on her boyfriend so that she’ll get with someone much better. If it intended to make audiences root for this dissolution of a relationship by making the martyr boyfriend not a real person, then this movie has succeeded. But shouldn’t these romantic comedies be a bit more complicated than that? What If only has charm in its directness, its obviousness and its resistance to budge to be anything that is actually fresh.
The kicker of this movie’s weakness is that it is from director Michael Dowse, who previously made the surprise hit Goon, the bloody hockey comedy that simultaneously had a distinctive heart with its romantic characters. Seann William Scott played a ruffian who is enlisted by a hockey team to cream people in the face during the games, to play dirty. He catches the eye of a hockey fan played by Allison Pill, who has a weakness for hockey players and often sleeps with them, but grows an attraction to the entirely innocent title character. The two’s relationship is unapologetically odd, with Scott buying Pill a stuffed animal from his team on their first date, and Pill acknowledging that she has a sexual weakness to these characters. And yet these creations are much more hardwired to a human heart due to their rawness, their genesis more natural due to their backgrounds as characters created from faults, and not from the actors and writers trying to achieve perfect imperfection. Even Dowse's usage of "Come On, Eileen" in that Topher Grace time capsule romance Take Me Home Tonight had tact, and felt like it was coming from a non-questionable heart.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10