Overview: A broken-hearted medical school dropout falls in love with his unavailable best friend. 2014, distributed by Entertainment One, rated PG-13, 101 minutes.
The Cute: What If takes ownership of its whimsical, cutesy tone from the minute the opening credits begin. Chantry’s (Zoe Kazan) occupation as an animator creates the opening for her drawings to come to life and remind us that the movie is fully aware of just how adorable it is. However, the balance of the chemistry between Zoe Kazan and Daniel Radcliffe, along with the grounding of the supporting characters, helps ensure the story never slips too far into the realm of cheesy. Even a wildly romantic gesture ends in a black eye, a reminder to viewers that Michael Dowse and crew know when they’ve almost gone too far, and they bring us back to the real world. Because that’s where the strength of this movie lies, in the real world.
The Real: The downfall of most romantic comedies is their inability to present an engaging love story in a realistic situation that doesn’t translate as either too over the top or too messy. What If chooses to boldly drive head first into the subject of infidelity, while making a successful effort to maintain likability for each of the characters. We see Chantry and Wallace from the moment they meet, realizing as they do that they’re perfect for each other. But the story doesn’t shy away from the messy subject matter or try to shine a light of innocence over Kazan and Radcliffe’s characters. Both actors bring a sense of honesty and relatability to the pair. Their laughter, their chemistry, and even their moments of guilt feel genuine as they keep us guessing with their “will they or won’t they” game, causing us to root for them regardless of the moral ambiguity that surrounds the story.
The Funny: I laughed during this movie, many more times than I thought I would. Although Adam Driver provides most of the comedic relief as the occasionally condescending, always inappropriate best friend Allan, the real surprise here is Daniel Radcliffe. As the often socially awkward and slightly depressed Wallace, who continuously finds himself in uncomfortable situations and manages to deal by calling attention to them rather than attempting to shy away. The best scenes occur when Driver and Radcliffe are interacting with one another, boasting a display of sarcasm and proudly ignoring polite social nuances as they fumble their way through life’s tough questions.