Film Review – What If
I am always whining about the state of modern romantic comedies, because – for the most part – they suck. There have been a few good ones in the past couple of years (Your Sister’s Sister and Austenland come to mind) but mostly I feel inundated with suckage. Instead of just rolling around on the floor and complaining about how I hate everything and nobody wants to make me a decent movie, I thought I would take a moment and write about what it is I want in a rom com. You know, just in case someone is paying attention that can actually do anything about it. Here it goes:
* I would like couples to have an attraction based on something besides looks. Every time I hear a male character declare his love for a woman and then follow it with, “You’re so beautiful,” I automatically shut down. It’s a given that he finds her attractive; why else would he be trying to bone her? What else does she have to offer that would make him want cheat on his current girlfriend/create a false persona/hear about all the times she’s been a bridesmaid or whatever else the story makes him do to get in her pants?
* I would like the couple to have conversations.
* I would like them to get to know each other over the course of the film.
* I would like marriage not to be the end goal. Although I like marriage and have a great one, commitment is just more complicated than that.
* I want them to have friends and families and jobs and lives beyond what is happening in the romance.
* But I mostly want a good story, so when we get to the first kiss I feel a frisson of excitement.
* Also, I want comedies to be funny. Is that too much to ask? Sometimes I really think it must be.
I don’t get everything I want in Michael Dowse’s new rom com What If, but there’s enough there to make it a pretty fun evening out. Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is a medical school dropout living in Toronto with his sister. He spends his time writing technical manuals and nursing a broken heart after a particularly nasty breakup. He meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at his best friend’s party and spends a pleasant evening getting to know her; for the first time in a long time, he feels like he clicks with someone. He walks her home, and she gives him her number while also making it clear to him that she has a boyfriend. Wallace tosses the number, but of course two similar souls will cross paths again, and they do so at a screening of The Princess Bride. Chantry makes a case for friendship, and Wallace agrees knowing that he is interested in more, but also valuing her enough to accept what she can give. His feelings only deepen over time, and he must make the decision to either make some kind of declaration or accept that he and Chantry will never be anything more than friends.
Lets get the things I did not like about this movie out of the way. There are moments when this movie is painfully twee. I got over it, but there was a scene involving animation at the beginning of the film where I was not sure I could. The humor is of a slapstick nature, which can be pretty hit or miss with me; I laughed about 50% of the time, which is good enough. Also, it is super dooper white. It’s okay to cast some black co-workers or friends, people! I hear there are Asians in Canada now. Most importantly, movies have a natural end point, and this one felt the need to go past it and then wrap up everything in a nice little bow. Not needed and disappointingly conservative.
This movie did a lot of right things for me though. I can’t remember Wallace at any point talking about how beautiful Chantry is, although it is obvious he is attracted to her. Their relationship is built up over time through conversation and shared interests. And Chantry has much more than romantic relationships on her mind. She is a successful animator with friends and family and hobbies and life stuff. It’s rare to see protagonists in rom coms with full lives; everything usually revolves around the romance, which makes the characters disappointingly two-dimensional. Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan have a good onscreen chemistry, and it is believable that these two characters would meet and be attracted to each other. But love is messy, and this film shows that messiness without being crass. There’s no new ground being broken here, but it’s really nice to see a sweet romantic comedy about well-rounded people who struggle with the conflicting demands of friendship and romance.