What If is the latest work from comedy director Michael Dowse. Starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan as the romantic leads, this quirky offering will warm even the most cynical heart with simultaneous opportunity for bouts of both cringing and giggling (cringgling?).
Here, Radcliffe has hung up his wizard robes in favour of a lab coat as he plays a med school drop-out with a broken heart. He falls hopelessly in love with artsy Chandry (Kazan), who is resolutely unavailable in a long-term relationship. An inevitable one-sided fromance ensues (friends who should be having a romantic relationship, but aren’t), with Wallace (Radcliffe) pining for Chandry.
The film is given a very British edge by its witty script and English lead. It follows the typical boy-meets-girl storyline, but breaks the mould in its execution. Reminiscent of the likes of 500 Days of Summer (never a bad thing), there is an attractive, stereotypically-British self-deprecating tinge to the humour of Wallace’s character.
One of the greatest attributes to this film is its “relatability”. The romance is subtle. It is not the Hollywood-esque, unbearably intense, painfully awkward romance that has been recycled so many times we now suffer a spectrum of romantiskeptics and psychotic fangirls. This time, it is believable. It is bittersweet and utterly hilarious. We see a relationship develop over the world’s most bizarre loaf of bread and a mutual need for someone to relate to, and it’s wonderful.
Radcliffe does a class job of playing the thoroughly friend-zoned boy in what is arguably his best performance since The Woman In Black, while Kazan perhaps gives an overly commercial portrayal of the naïve female lead. But next to Radcliffe, this provides an interesting juxtaposition. Together, they combine edgy dialogue with an accessible story to create a couple you find yourself wishing you were one half of.
Set in Vancouver, its setting lends itself to being “relatable”; it is a city, but that city could be anywhere. Everyone has been somewhere that looks like it. It has not fallen prey to an overused, over-romanticised American city backdrop, which both works in its favour and helps with that quirky edge.
Contemporary romantic comedy is a difficult genre to navigate and one that has delivered little in the way of a perfect piece over the last few years. Every recent example has proved too commercially aspirational, with an edge that appeals to Hollywood and financial success as opposed to keeping true to its creative roots.
It would be brilliant to say that What If were the exception, but it is not quite. There is still something too much of the clichéd boy-meets-girl model for it to be a true reflection of an avant-guard piece, and lacks the element of real tragedy that would make it so, yet this is worth overlooking. The fact is, the movie is fun. There are genuine laugh-out-loud moments and you’ll find yourself sympathising with the characters, cringing at their adorable awkwardness and thinking “That has definitely happened to me before”.
You can watch it with your mates, your parents, your other half – there is something in it for everyone and, as it is thankfully lacking in syrupy sweet gushiness, it’s comes with a male stamp of approval as well. Everyone’s a winner.
Review by Gemma Clarke