What If
dir Michael Dowse
scr Elan Mastai
prd David Gross, Macdara Kelleher, Andre Rouleau, Jesse Shapira, Marc Stephenson
with Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Rafe Spall, Mackenzie Davis, Megan Park, Jemima Rooper, Oona Chaplin, Tommie-Amber Pirie, Lucius Hoyos, Jonathan Cherry, Rebecca Northan
release US 8.Aug.14, UK 20.Aug.14
13/Canada eOne 1h42
What If
Just friends: Radcliffe and Kazan

driver spall davis
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
What If In his ongoing attempt to perform in each genre of stage and screen, Radcliffe tackles the romantic-comedy. With mixed results. He's charming enough, exuding intelligence and nervous energy throughout this enjoyably awkward movie. But while director Dowse finds clever angles in the story, the script is never very believable.

After dropping out of med-school following a bad break-up, Toronto-based Brit Wallace (Radcliffe) is encouraged by his goofy pal Allan (Driver) to start dating again. At a party, Wallace meets the smart-kooky Chantry (Kazan), and the two hit it off, agreeing to just be friends because Chantry has a boyfriend, Ben (Spall). Wallace says this is fine, even though he clearly wants more, and things become more complicated when Ben takes a six-month job in Dublin. With his own relationship to Nicole (Davis) moving quickly, Allan urges Wallace to make a move.

Tonally, the movie never settles in. Dowse maintains the sharp humour, but sometimes indulges in unnecessarily wacky slapstick. At other moments, emotions become so pushy that the audience can't help but rebel against them. In addition, major plot turns are utterly implausible, and the actors are forced to be so quirky and likeable that it becomes rather exhausting to hang out with them.

In other words, the story never feels like much more than a corny romantic fantasy ("ooh, let's make these 'friends' share a sleeping bag one night ... naked!"). So the only enjoyment comes via the up-for-it cast. Radcliffe finally looks closer to his actual 25 years, and just about sells himself as a guy who abandoned his career due to a broken heart. Kazan is zany and far too cute, but has an intriguing hint of doubt in her eyes. In the thankless villain role, Spall is at least funny, smart and never truly nasty. And Driver and Davis provide comic relief with their inappropriate banter.

Meanwhile, Dowse's witty directing style catches character detail along with lively visual flourishes that reflect Chantry's work as an animator (the story's conclusion plays out in the animated closing credits). So it's frustrating that Mastai's script (based on a play) never rings true. Despite the charming surfaces, there isn't a moment that feels honest and none of the events emerges organically. It's difficult to engage with a romance that is both undercooked and inevitable.

cert 15 themes, language, innuendo 9.Jul.14

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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall