By Gary Murray
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan and Megan Park
Written by Elan Mastar
Directed by Michael Dowse
Running time 102 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Matinee
One of my favorite films is When Harry Met Sally. There is a certain charm that the two leads bring to this film that stands the test of time. It is the highpoint in the career of both Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. It is a classic of the genre.
But since then, the romantic comedy has taken some savage blows. It seems that every season, someone tries to relight those romantic cinematic candles but they seem to get snuffed out at the box office. Leap Year, Fool’s Gold and anything with Katherine Heigl have driven nails into the coffin of the romantic comedy.
But in the independent cinema, there has been a greater degree of achievement. Celeste & Jesse Forever and Ruby Sparks were both a success at independent cinemas. What if is the latest film to take that well-worn path.
The story is of Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) a medical student living in Toronto and miserable. He has recently dropped his studies due to his cheating medical student girlfriend. Our romantic hero lives with his sister and her little boy who sees Wallace as a father figure.
Wallace goes to a party thrown by buddy Allan (Adam Driver) and ‘cute-meets’ Chantry (Zoe Kazan). The two trade witty banter while using a refrigerator magnet poetry toy. Wallace is instantly smitten by Chantry but she has a boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall).
When Chantry gives Wallace her number, he lets it go in the wind as if saying ‘what’s the use.’ Later, the two re-meet at a screening of The Princess Bride and again find that they have a connection. Wallace decides to try and become her friend.
The rest of the film is of how these two ‘destined to be together’ loves finally find each other in a world where the odds are against them. We also see Allan’s relationship build with Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) and Chantry’s sister attempting to woo Wallace. Ben becomes the dreaded long-distance relationship and absence may or may not make the heart grow fonder. It all builds to the final, third act kiss.
There are few surprises in What if and that almost is the point. A romantic comedy is a journey not a destination and the point of the film is watching the two leads find each other. Everyone in the audience knows the end of the journey; they just want to watch them discover the path.
Daniel Radcliffe will always be known as Harry Potter, the boy wizard. It is the role that made him an A-list actor, a modern icon of cinema. If he never does anything else, his career in film history is assured. The problem is—how do you top it? The answer is by doing roles that are as distant from that performance as it can be. He’s done some horror flicks, a few Broadway plays and now a rom-com. It is the best way to fill out a full career.
Zoe Kazan is one of the most charming performers working today. Her Ruby Sparks role brought her many fans and this role should bring many more. She is cute without being overly beautiful, the kind of girl who looks just as comfortable wearing formal gowns as she does wearing sweats and a t-shirt. Her Chantry is a conflicted girl, someone who is never sure exactly what path her life should take. The character is a skilled animator and the heart truly rules her mind.
Director Michael Dowse captures the spirit of the romantic comedy but never breaks any new ground. He has two charming leads and let’s them slowly fall in cinematic love. Both have to overcome obstacles, physical and emotional, but somehow still connect in the end. This is film-making 101 and still works within the genre.
What if should have been named When Wallace Met Chantry because it feels like a re-boot of that film. It is not as good as that classic cinema experience but it is a warm and fuzzy little feature. What if may actually revive the genre.