Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Directed by: Michael Dowse
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Megan Park, Adam Driver
Ever since Harry embarked on that first fateful car journey with Sally, rom-com filmmakers have ubiquitously been attempting to find fresh ways of exploring the question of whether men and women can succeed in just being friends. Now, more than 20 years since Harry Met Sally, the concept, like many others related to that genre, feels worn out, and despite the best efforts of its cast and filmmakers, What If never feels like anything more.
The hapless romantic at the heart of this particular tale is Wallace, a medical school dropout living in Toronto who’s scarred by the disastrous end to his previous relationship. That is until he meets kooky animator Chantry. Immediately the two hit it off and Wallace suddenly feels the prick of Cupid’s arrow once more. The only problem is that Chantry is happily living with her long-time boyfriend Ben, forcing Wallace to forever pine for the girl he can’t have, all the while developing a very close and personal friendship with her.
Ever since the Harry Potter franchise finally drew to a close back in 2011, Daniel Radcliffe has admirably taken it upon himself to develop his acting range through a succession of challenging roles; with his turn as Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings being a notable highlight. The problem here is that, despite Radcliffe’s natural charisma, it’s hard to feel interested and by extension emotionally invested in him.
Wallace is essentially the same character Hugh Grant spent many of his formative years playing, the charming yet bumbling English romantic who’s fervently trying to win the heart of the girl he loves and more often than not making a fool of himself in the process. Before he’s even had the chance to accompany Chantry as she walks home, we are already more than aware of how their story is likely to conclude.
This, indeed, is a problem that plagues the entirety of the film. The structure to Elan Mastai’s screenplay, adapted from the Canadian play ‘Toothpaste & Cigars’, is nothing more than a formulaic path of trodden clichés that have been borrowed from various other films. The effect of the far subtler and more superior indie rom-com (500) Days Of Summer is plain to see in the quirky animations used to bridge the gap between scenes and in the characterisation of bizarrely named Chantry, while a mad dash to and from an airport towards the end of the second act does nothing by bring back memories of the blood-curdling finale to the irrepressibly cheesy Love Actually.
Before long you can’t help but find your interest starting to wane, which is a real disappointment as there’s no denying the efforts of those involved. Like Radcliffe, the rest of the main cast attack what are fairly one-dimensional roles with gusto. Adam Driver offers a boisterous energy as Wallace’s best friend Allen, while Zoe Kazan imbues Chantry with an irresistible charm. Interwoven in to the mix is Roger Stoffers’ lush cinematography, which instils Toronto with the same magic New York effortlessly exudes in countless other rom-coms, and a particularly trendy soundtrack that almost pleads for your approval.
The hitch is that you just can’t give it. Though the film wants to ask you what if your friend is the love of your life, the only question you find yourself pondering is what if the creators could have thought of an original idea?