Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver
Director: Michael Dowse
Running Time: 97 mins
What If is a Canadian film about a medical school dropout who meets a sweet young woman who already has a boyfriend. They try to remain best friends, but reality soon begins to push them towards more than just that.
Though well-intentioned and perfectly sweet on the surface, What If is by no means the delightful or touching romance it really wants to be. Despite likable performed, the film struggles with a screenplay full of frustrating genre tropes, and actually proves to be a lot more annoying than it ever sets out to be.
Of course, if you don’t want to take this movie too seriously, then I think you can have a nice time with it. There are better rom-coms out there, and this doesn’t quite have the easy-going, fluffy watchability of many other films in the genre, but there are still things to enjoy about it.
For one, though their characters may leave a lot to be desired, Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan have wonderful chemistry here. It’s not the romantic spark that makes them so enjoyable to watch, but rather two individually grounded and still entertaining performances working together really nicely.
The cutesy will-they-won’t-they nature of their relationship means that it would have been easy for both Radcliffe and Kazan to play up ultra-quirky, awkward character stereotypes, but both are much more mellow than that, and much more likable as a result.
Beyond the lead performances, the rather safe direction that this story takes means it’s not a particularly taxing watch if you’re not looking for anything more. Hardly the most insightful romantic movie ever made, What If has all the typical story beats you’d expect to see, and there is something pleasingly familiar and simple about that.
However, this film is clearly trying to be more than just a generic, fluffy rom-com, and that’s why I found it such a frustrating watch. Throughout, What If tries to follow in the footsteps of When Harry Met Sally, as it examines the question of whether a man and a woman can ever really be friends, without love and sex getting in the way.
For one, this film is nowhere near on the same level of comedy as When Harry Met Sally, playing it too safe with fluffy humour in comparison to the ’80s classic’s brilliant wit and tongue-in-cheek wisdom.
Also, by following such a simple and ultimately predictable plot formula, What If is in no way as emotionally captivating as When Harry Met Sally. The two leads here may also have good chemistry, but I never found myself really engrossed in their romance on an emotional level.
Finally, the characters themselves are just too one-dimensional. Again, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan’s awkward pairing was not only great comedic material, but also offered up interesting dramatic conflict and a heap of memorable moments.
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan, meanwhile, have little to do with two characters who are clearly made for each other from the first moment, and are actually far more competent and intelligent than the film gives them credit for.
That means that they lack the human flaws the could have made their characters so much more interesting, and the film more relatable and emotionally resonant.
Overall, What If wasn’t quite the enjoyable and insightful romance it clearly wants to be. It features two lovely performances from Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan, and entertains on a superficial level with its familiar screenplay.
However, it’s a film that struggles to really grab you with its main ideas, proving a bit of a misfire as it attempts to dissect an age-old question about love. So, that’s why I’m giving the film a 6.7 overall.