Billy Crystal’s character Harry Burns said it best in the classic romantic comedy, ‘When Harry Met Sally.’ He quipped, “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” In ‘What If,’ it covers that theme with a millennial twist. This film gets it right. It works well due to the chemistry and likability of the two leads Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan. They give earnest and genuine performances. Radcliffe continues to branch out from his earlier days as the boy wizard Harry Potter. And if you haven’t heard of Zoe Kazan yet, you will soon. She is a talented force to be reckoned with on the screen. She wrote and starred in one of my favorite romantic dramas of 2012, ‘Ruby Sparks.’
What I truly like about ‘What If’ is how it handles that delicate relationship between romance and friendship. This is an indie film with flair. It is shot on location in Toronto which gives it a unique quality. Like New York, it’s a cool city where Twentysomethings are starting out in their chosen careers and trying to find real human connections. The story begins at a house party. It’s a totally plausible scene. We meet Wallace (Radcliffe) who is still reeling from a devastating break-up. He’s a med school dropout for reasons we will find out later. He sips a beer in the kitchen and with fridge magnets writes out “Love is stupid monkeys dancing in a slapstick hurricane.” Chantry (Kazan) reads it and it allows the two to break the ice and have their first conversation.
There is a definite attraction between them but as Wallace walks her home from the party, there is one slight problem. She is already in a meaningful relationship with live-in boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall). You can cut the disappointment on Wallace’s face with a knife when she tells him. She wants to be friends with him. Wallace obviously wants to be more than just friends but agrees to keep it platonic just to spend more time with her. The situation is complicated since Chantry happens to be the cousin of Wallace’s best friend Allan (Adam Driver). Driver is hilarious in the role. He meets the girl of his dreams in Nicole (Mackenzie Davis). He proclaims, “I just had sex. I’m about to eat nachos! It’s the greatest moment of my life!”
When Chantry’s boyfriend takes a six-month stint with his U.N. job in Europe, Chantry and Wallace hang out together. What makes it intriguing is the possibility of romance always looming over them. There is a wonderful scene on the beach at night. Kazan is amazing in it. She has the ability to be doe-eyed cute and at the same time show her frustration in the moment. She genuinely loves her boyfriend yet there is no denying her growing attraction to Wallace. The film could have taken the easy path but Kazan shows us the real complications of their friendship. She is not ready to throw away what she has with Ben as she feels guilty about her feelings toward Wallace. ‘What If’ was adapted for the screen by Elan Mastai from a play. He gives the characters richness through quirky dialogue about Elvis’ weird eating habits and concocting alternate names for Cool Whip. Chantry’s career as an animator gives the film a magical quality as well.
‘What If’ may seem cute on the surface but it makes important observations about how the best relationships begin as friendships. While Hollywood has abandoned the romantic comedy genre, the indie film still embraces it. This film is a terrific entry into a summer overloaded with mega-blockbusters. It also confirms the romantic comedy genre is still alive and kicking. I highly recommend checking out Zoe Kazan in ‘Ruby Sparks' too http://www.examiner.com/review/ruby-sparks-movie-review. ‘What If’ movie trailer http://youtu.be/A86JGbBEaBk.