What If is a by-the-numbers Hollywood romantic comedy. That it actually wasn’t made by a big a Hollywood studio system might account for two things. One is that it follows previous used tropes in a manner that isn’t as irksome or strained as your standard Kate Hudson film. Secondly, there’s a fair chance you’ve never heard of it. Those looking for a sincere, enjoyable date-movie, or possibly just a fun and a lively picture, ought to seek out this film that is probably playing on that tiny screen in the corner of your multiplex.
Based on the play “Toothpaste and Cigarettes” by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi, What If stars Danielle Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan as our romantic hopefuls. Radcliffe is Wallace, a slightly meandering med-school dropout who is finally at the point of moving on from a love that shattered his heart. At a party Wallace meets his best friend Allan’s cousin Chantry (Kazan) and the pair hit it off immediately. Downside for Mr. Wallace, Chantry has a boyfriend, a fact he only learns when they depart the first time. Wallace decides that despite the spark, he doesn’t need to spend time going down that road and gets rid of her phone number.
Then they meet again by chance and rom-com things ensue.
That isn’t meant as a backhanded compliment. The film uses tropes and the building blocks of previous movies. It also has a spunk, rich comedic timing and a pair of leading performances that make on root for the two characters to just kiss already. Directed by Michael Dowse (Goon) and adapted by Elan Mastai, What If does the little things right. For one, it establishes what Allan and Chantry see in one another. Each is a little bit of a loner, though by no means anti-social. They think a lot about the decisions they make and are easily embarrassed by the wrong ones. Radcliffe and Kazan banter charmingly together and it’s always welcome to see a movie let the words we share with those we long for be a significant part of a bond.
The movie also avoids easy pitfalls. Chantry’s boyfriend isn’t a complete monster of a man. Her attraction to him is logical, even as the cracks remain. Additionally, her sister’s decision to try and seduce Wallace, since he’s attractive, nice and single, isn’t overplayed. The scene and its outcome make sense and builds little shading into each person involved. Plus, we get memorable supporting work by Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis as friends/family of our protagonists. Driver is particularly excellent, a standard for him, in a pair of scenes where he discusses the pluses and minuses of Wallace romantic longings.
Really, it’s all rather basic. Radcliffe is a charismatic, lovable character. Kazan is a sweet, conflicted character. I just want to watch them kiss already.
What If is now playing in Seattle.