If there were a way to explain how What If didn’t, and yet did, follow the same formula many romantic comedies have, I would. But what I can tell you is that screenwriter Elan Mastai knew what he was doing when he adapted T.J. Dawe’s and Michael Rinaldi’s play Toothpaste and Cigars into a movie.
The characters Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan) officialize their friendship with a handshake, to the glee of Chantry and dismay of Wallace, although the latter rather be put in the friend zone than entirely forgotten by Chantry. It is Chantry who first offers her hand, perhaps trying to prevent a deeper relationship with a guy she finds herself attracted to, in her mind threatening her current relationship.
They’re experimenting with the Harry and Sally conundrum: can a man and woman be just friends? Chantry is more interested in gaining a friend than playing the game, and Wallace doesn’t want to play the game, but he can’t let go of the prospect of being part of Chantry’s life in some form, even if it isn’t what he’d hope for.
Both lead actors overcome obstacles in playing the roles What If set out for them. Daniel Radcliffe is stripping his Harry Potter persona, and he deftly handled and proved he has more characters to play than the most famous wizard when he signed on to play the sweet and subtle Wallace. Zoe Kazan’s character can be frustrating, yet there are moments when you care despite her shortcomings, made up mostly of leading Wallace on while maintaining her relationship with her long-time boyfriend (Rafe Spall).
Since What If has been out for several weeks now, I’m not going to break down the movie plot point by plot point. But I did make some observations about a film that I would recommend to friends who enjoy a unique comedy that strays from typical rom-com land.
First, why is the movie called What If? I thought about a few what ifs, but the film’s website included these questions:
What if you never told her how you felt?
What if I’m still in love with my ex?
What if he thinks it’s more than what it is?
What if you could fall in love over and over again?
I don’t think What If answers all of those questions, but the actors play their roles well enough that you don’t have to ask all of those questions. The chemistry between Radcliffe and Kazan is bubbling over in many scenes. But the sense you get is that there’s this friendship between the two that has you rooting for them because they make great friends. The added physical attraction is just a bonus.
One of the most interesting scenes involves Wallace’s friends, Allan (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) stealing Wallace’s and Chantry’s clothes while the two swim in the ocean. The typical rom com’s screenplay would welcome the opportunity for a convenient hook-up between the two characters everyone’s been waiting to get together. Instead, Chantry and Wallace are faced with a decision, surprisingly taking the morally high ground, which was considerably the harder choice of the two.
There were moments I felt like What If was lightly inspired by (500) Days of Summer (2009), although I wouldn’t consider it quite the success the latter proved to be. There is a lot of text scrawl and animated hand-drawn pictures in the film, and somehow they’re related to Chantry’s job. Perhaps the goal was to connect her job to the overall theme of the film, but the delivery failed to communicate that idea, making the artistry seem odd and out of place. In spite of that, What If‘s screenplay rarely falters, and there are both sweet and funny moments, many of which deliver.
Most of the humor of this movie comes from the Allan character, which Adam Driver so helplessly plays. For some reason, Wallace regularly seeks advice from Allan throughout the movie, and some funny dialogue plays out, adding to the charm and unique tone What If gives off.
The ending of What If is not worth giving away to those who have yet to see the movie, but in the end, I like how the writers chose to end it.
I give What If . . .
It’s your turn now. If you saw What If, what did you think of it? If you didn’t, are you planning to see What If? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts.