When Harry Potter Met Sally. As twee as a daisy chain, What If is sometimes so cute you think you might vomit paisley, but instead you laugh, because the winsome script flutters along with enough observational humour, self-awareness and slapstick comedy to distract you from the painting-by-numbers plot.
What If is the story of med-school dropout Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) who, after a painful breakup, is a cynical, love-hating romantic. This is of course when he meets animator Chanty (Zoe Kazan), over something so unutterably endearing as arranging fridge magnets at a house party, writing – “love is stupid monkeys dancing in a slapstick hurricane”. This sentence sets the tone for the rest of the film, it’s quirky and kind of adorable. During the party Wallace and Chantry bond, they end up walking home together and before parting ways they swap numbers. Unfortunately, in the same breath Chantry slips in she has a boyfriend, so, in his first romantic lead Daniel Radcliffe is made mayor of the friend zone, but it’s a fitting role for Harry Potter’s nerdish charms.
The connection between Wallace and Chantry is undeniable, as is the chemistry between the two leads who play characters layered enough to keep us interested, via performances fun enough to keep us entertained. With your usual hipster hallmarks – Chantry’s quaint animations repeatedly float across the screen, following the standard rom com plot points – there’s a rush to the airport, at times What If is like that over-eager guy you’re seeing, so keen to keep you close it risks pushing you further away.
However maybe it’s the familiarity that draws us in, the universal understanding of unrequited love. We’re rooting for Wallace and Chantry to get together, it’s made so clear to us that they’re made for each other – they both go solo to a screening of the Princess Bride, they discuss Elvis meeting his end at the hands of Fool’s Gold, and they share many a doe-eyed gaze. Fortunately the script, adapted from the Canadian play Toothpaste and Cigars, is the perfect fit for Goon director Michael Dowse, and it seems, even post 500 Days of Summer, the hipster angle can still breathe new life into the tired rom com genre.
There’s also some great turns by Rafe Spall as the subtly-threatening boyfriend, and Adam Driver who, yes plays exactly the same character as his role in Girls, but is endlessly watchable as the weird, obnoxious best friend who’s all too happy to point out the issues with Wallace’s friend zone situation.
What If poses the redundant question – can men and women just be friends? You better hope not, because this is a fully fledged, undemanding but fantastic date movie.
Words: Zac Colbert