What If (2013)
★ / ★★★★
Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe), a medical school dropout, and Chantry (Zoe Kazan), an animator, meet at a party and sparks fly between them almost immediately. The problem: Wallace is still trying to get over a breakup while Chantry has a boyfriend of five years (Rafe Spall). Recognizing that it is difficult to find another person that one whom can connect with almost on an instinctual level, Wallace and Chantry decide to be friends. The more they spend time together, however, it becomes clearer that maybe they ought to take their relationship on another level.
Directed by Michael Dowse and based on a screenplay by Elan Mastai, “What If” is an overlong, too-twee-for-its-own-good romantic comedy that goes nowhere fast. Despite solid performances by Radcliffe and Kazan, not even their effortless charm can perform miracles on a sinking ship. The ship could not sink any faster so that the torturous experience could finally be over.
The soundtrack is overbearing in that it gets in the way of real emotions. Instead of employing silence from time to time in order to highlight realizations and sudden turn of events, cutesy folk music is used to make us feel warm and cuddly. I did not buy a second of it. The material is supposed to be inspired by Rob Reiner’s “When Harry Met Sally…” but other than the question of whether or not the opposite sex can truly remain just friends, this movie is like that romantic comedy classic if its brain and subtleties were taken out.
The supporting characters are either malnourished in terms of development or supremely unlikeable, from Ellie—Wallace’s sister who happens to be a single mom—to Dalia—Chantry’s sister, a typical blonde bimbo who talks like her IQ is in the single digits. Because the supporting players come across fake, the world that Chantry and Wallace inhabit neither feels real nor does it offer anything substantial or interest. They exist for the sake of having color commentaries, bland dividers from one scene to the next.
I hated how Chantry and Ben’s relationship is handled. They are supposed to be living together for five years, but not once do we feel that they were once happy or they are happy but are currently going through a rough patch. A litmus test when it comes to characters who are supposed to have known each other for so long is whether the audience can imagine how their past must have been like. Here, we do not get that opportunity. It is all about what is in front of them—Chantry and her increasing feelings for Wallace and then Ben trying to advance his career. Their life together is one-dimensional.
“What If” is based on a play by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi. One has to wonder whether the play is adapted properly to the screen. What the picture lacks is a sense of real intimacy between people who are afraid to cross certain lines. Instead of trying to be cute, it should have attempted to be honest. Because honesty does not result from cuteness but cuteness can result from honesty.