Since stepping out of the Hogwarts cloak 3 years ago it seems that Daniel Radcliffe has dipped into every genre he can get his hands on, now in 2014 he can finally tick ‘Rom-Com’ off his list with Michael Dowse’s What If.
After Wallace (Radcliffe) meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party, the pair instantly hit it off. A couple of kindred spirits with a witty repertoire, they discuss Elvis Presley’s bowel movements before he died and go deep in the history of a ‘Fools Gold’ sandwich, a clearly obvious choice of object to bring the pair together in an off-beat, indie-vibe comedy. After discovering that Chantry actually has a boyfriend Wallace decides he is A-OK with settling for ‘just friends’, which is of course, bullshit. The pair are assisted along their friend-love journey by Allan (Adam Driver), who happens to be Chantry’s cousin and Wallace’s BFF, and provides check in points and hilarious nuggets of life advice during the course of the 98 minutes. As Wallace and Chantry become closer, they both individually end up navigating their own problems with love, life and what the future holds.
On the outside, What If appears to be another sub-standard rom-com, trailers and pictures suggest Zoe Kazan falling back into the manic pixie dream girl she embodied in Ruby Sparks and Radcliffe as the kinda-geeky-but-some-people-are-into it Tom from 500 Days of Summer. But on the inside What If tries to take new directions, by actually presenting developed characters on both sides. This is no Tom & Summer deal, both Wallace and Chantry have their own issues, some that they deal with alone and others together. None of the film feels one sided, he isn’t there to further her life and she isn’t there to further his. Presenting the pair as two people with more than just a potential romance on their minds makes the film much more honest and ‘real’ than your average rom-com.
Kazan and Radcliffe bounce off each other well, and this will banish any thoughts from your mind that The Boy From Privet Drive can’t do comedy. He can, and he does, the duo’s back and forth banter is incredibly witty if at times a little bit out-stretched. Adam Driver also shines as Allan, not stretching too far from his character in Lena Dunham’s Girls, there is not one scene that he doesn’t light up with full on belly laughs and a bit of gross-out humour.
Although, the need to constantly uphold the kookiness factor is the film’s biggest downfall; such as Chantry being an animator that draws cute lil fairies, a skinny dipping scene, cringey emails carrying on about ‘Fools Gold’ and Elvis. But, it’s a formula that works and anyone else with a penchant for cuteness overloads will tell you that it isn’t too sickly sweet to ruin the story.
What If initially appears as a lil’ bit of summer lovin’ to break up the season’s bout of action films, but has actually turned out to be something with a whole lot more heart.