A rom-com. Not what I thought I’d be watching on a Sunday night, to be honest. But thankfully it’s one I would have chosen if someone made me choose a rom-com on a Sunday night.
I know what you’re thinking. “It’s either going to be clichéd or an attempt at satire.” But let’s be honest, both those things would work, if there was something good about the entire exercise. Thankfully, there is something good in this movie that made it bearable.
What If stars Daniel Radcliffe as Wallace, Zoe Kazan as Chantry, Megan Park as Dalia, Mackenzie Davis as Nicole, Adam Driver as Allan, and Rafe Spall as Ben and is directed by Michael Dowse and is based on the play ‘Toothpaste and Cigars’ by Michael Rinaldi.
Also, spoilers ahead. But to be honest, if you see the trailer, you can pretty much guess everything. IF you’re savvy.
The long version:
Let me preface this by saying that I saw this movie just because I stumbled across a YouTube video. It was a clip from the movie featuring Wallace and Allan where Allan utters one of the gems of the movie “I just had sex and I’m about to have nachos. This is the greatest moment of my life.” I swear, that alone would have made me want to watch the movie but what was so good about this was that the clip was titled “Kylo Ren has breakfast with Harry Potter”. Yep, it’s as good as you think it is.
So, on to the review. Let’s get this out of the way; the movie is stereotypical. There are these expected beats that every rom-com has to hit and this movie hits each and every one of them. The characters aren’t especially interesting and the story is close to being non-existent. So, why do I say that it’s bearable?
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan! They have great chemistry and they are so FRICKIN’ adorable, you just want those two “TO KISS ALREADY” and get it over with. They sell this movie. If it were other people in the lead roles, I’m pretty sure I would have loathed every minute of it.
Radcliffe and Kazan bring an earnestness to the movie and it’s one of the few things that make the movie worth watching.
The next is the dialogue. Or to be clear, banter, really. The dialogue plays out like something out of a new-age sitcom and it’s all the better for it since the back-and-forth adds to the characters and gives them the tiny bit of depth they need to overcome that 2D cardboard feeling and while the dialogue that the movie uses is uninspired at best and stereotypical at worst, the actors somehow make it charming.
Although I have to say, the toast that Wallace gives at Allan’s wedding was pretty great. I only wish it was like that all throughout the movie. There are moments (including the aforementioned wedding toast) when the movie shines and that is a testament to these actors.
Oh God, the story. It can essentially be broken down to
Meet Cute > Uncomfortable Truth > A chance? > Awkwardness > Happy Ending
Like I’d mentioned before, the entire story is so clichéd that you’d be able to guess everything before it happens even if you’re the least bit savvy. There were actual moments in the movie where I had to pause just because I was laughing so hard at the movie, for being as predictable as it was (much to the possible consternation of my neighbour).
Rafe Spall feels wasted (although the only movie I’ve only seen of his is Life of Pi). Adam Driver is almost wasted (I still think that Nachos line is pure hilarity).
The direction and cinematography don’t really stand out. The movie feels like it doesn’t take place in the real world. It doesn’t seem to have an atmosphere that makes it unique. As much as I’d hate to bring up the comparison, I feel an apt example is La La Land (Oh, how I hate that movie. It makes me feel a little bit dirty just to use it.)
The thing that La La Land does better in one aspect (among a few) is that you have a sense of the place that the movie is taking place in. A world seemed to exist outside of the characters. ‘What If’ seems to be taking place in Generic McGeneric Land.
And I was so irritated by the character that Megan Park plays. Dalia is as one-dimensional as we can get (Chantry’s friends? More like one scene cardboard cut-outs.) The movie tries to make her at least have some depth with the emotional scenes with her trying to be there for Chantry but it didn’t win me over. Although, I have to say the line she says when kicking Wallace out of the car about a Brazilian did make me chortle.
It’s safe. It doesn’t try to breach new ground. Chantry doesn’t seem to have character development past “Oh, I do like my friend who is adorable”. Wallace seems to have the most out of all of them and that is no compliment. Allan and Nicole do have some as well, but it doesn’t hit the mark because they don’t feel like real people the minute they stop talking.
What If purely works on a level that cannot be fought against, the cuteness of the leads. No matter how stupid or silly the situation is, after you start watching the movie, you want them to get together. You want the happy ending. And so, while it’s a complete disappointment in terms of story or characterisation or anything, I rather enjoyed it.
It’s a safe bet to watch with your girlfriend (or boyfriend, for that matter). At least you wouldn’t have to watch an episode of FRIENDS for the 5912th time. So, as far as that’s concerned, it’s good, really.
PERSONAL RATING: 7/10
P.S. It felt utterly nerdy writing this review for I was wearing a Harry Potter T-shirt while writing it.