What if you met a girl whom you really liked? What if you found out that she already had a boyfriend? What if that didn’t stop you from falling in love with her? This dilemma is at the center of What If, a new romantic comedy from director Michael Dowse. It’s a narrative that we’ve seen before, but stars Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan bring such an irresistible chemistry to the project that the movie’s familiarity hardly matters. Adapted from the play Toothpaste and Cigars, screenwriter Elan Mastai populates his screenplay with characters and events that feel mostly true to life. Even if the film isn’t breaking any new ground, it’s undeniably sweet and it’s also pretty well put together.

Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is a young man, who lives in Toronto in his sister’s attic. Originally a student in medical school, Wallace dropped out when he caught his girlfriend kissing one of their professors. Now he works at a job that he hates and has zero relationship prospects. But one night he attends a party thrown by his friend Allan (Adam Driver) and meets a girl named Chantry (Zoe Kazan). The two immediately hit it off, but Wallace is saddened to find out that she already has a boyfriend. Despite this, he continues to spend time with her, even though his feelings for her continue to surpass their levels of friendship. Wallace doesn’t want to be the guy to ruin Chantry’s relationship, but he also doesn’t want to spend his life without her.

Originally titled The F Word before it was changed to avoid an R rating, What If hits all the familiar narrative beats that you would expect from a modern romantic comedy: a young man and woman meet, they form an instant attachment to each other, but they’re unable to be together due to some kind of complication. Still, that’s hardly a problem because Dowse’s direction and Mastai’s screenplay is fresh and engaging. The dialogue may feel like it’s trying too hard to be cute and clever, but that absolutely works for two characters who are trying to subtly flirt with one another. The characters in this movie genuinely talk and behave like young people. And while there a lot of moments where the humor doesn’t work (a character falls out a window, another character falls down a flight of stairs), the dialogue and situations are humorous enough to elicit some solid chuckles.

But what really elevates the film are the lead performances and the chemistry that Radcliffe and Kazan share with one another. Radcliffe successfully delivers his best post-Harry Potter performance and Kazan is totally charming and heartfelt. Together, they create two well-defined characters whose attraction to one another is very believable. The plot grows a little unrealistic in the third act when one character follows another to a foreign country, but for the most part, What If is a simple romantic comedy that’s very well crafted. It may just be another love story, but it’s sweeter than most.

What If receives 3/4

Advertisements