What If Review

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We’ve all been there. An impressionable, naive 15 year old, with a romanticised, blissfully ignorant view of the world, who thinks they’ve fallen hopelessly in love with somebody, only to be told their affectations are unwanted, and all that beckons is a mere frustrating friendship. Therein lies the sentiment behind Michael Dowse’s What If, yet given the cliched nature of the piece (and the contrived quirkiness that comes with it), this overtly cinematic creation has managed to take a widely relatable theme, and make a film that feels, well, somewhat un-relatable.

Daniel Radcliffe plays Wallace, unlucky in love and searching for something meaningful in his life. Which arrives in the form of Chantry (Zoe Kazan) when introduced at a mutual friend, Allan’s (Adam Driver) party. Thought their spark is palpable, Chantry puts something of a downer on the occasion when she reveals that she has a boyfriend, Ben (Rafe Spall) and merely wants to be friends. Wallace begrudgingly and reluctantly agrees, but how long can he last before making his feelings known?

There is a warmth to this title, as a film that’s exceedingly each to indulge in. However the charm that exists is counteracted by the inclination to be predictable, and forcefully whimsical. You want to invest in these roles, but when Wallace pensively looks out into the starry night, only then for the twee picture drawn on the paper he throws into the distance to come to life, it takes a turn for the surreal and it doesn’t suit the nature of the piece, taking you out of the story at hand. A film of this ilk is more effective when approached more naturalistically. That being said, when Dowse does vie for realism, in making Ben a rather sympathetic character and not the archetypal antagonist the boyfriend is often painted out to be, it still somehow manages to work against the film. Though admiring the director for not abiding by convention in this instance, we actually need Ben to be more villainous and more of an imbecile to help us root for Wallace and Chantry’s coming together. Instead, we don’t even know if we actually want that to happen, which sort of works against the entire point of the movie.

Recommended:  Tuesday Review

In spite of the myriad of issues within this underwhelming romantic comedy, there is a humour that exists, which derives predominantly from the awkward, uncomfortable nature of our leading duos’ conversation. It’s remarkably well judged, and it’s a style that favours Radcliffe, who as an actor can be accused of not always being relaxed in front of camera and often seems a little self-conscious. Perhaps more roles of this ilk may just see the actors greatest weakness become something of an asset.

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About Stefan Pape

Stefan Pape is a film critic and interviewer who spends most of his time in dark rooms, sipping on filter coffee and becoming perilously embroiled in the lives of others. He adores the work of Billy Wilder and Woody Allen, and won’t have a bad word said against Paul Giamatti.

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