'What If' Is An Updated Take On 'When Harry Met Sally' But With Daniel Radcliffe
What If tries to answer that age-old question: "Can men and women just be platonic friends?" It follows the rom-com trope that's been done before with When Harry Met Sally, but it's updated for this day and age—with an added bit of screwball comedy and witty (but sometimes awkward and long) banter.
The extra added oomph in the film is seeing Daniel Radcliffe, our Harry Potter star-turned-romantic lead. It's a departure from his days of wizardry, but he's since graduated from Hogwarts and moved onto some choice acting roles (like in Kill Your Darlings and A Young Doctor's Notebook) that don't pigeonhole him as a bespectacled hero (nope, he's not wearing glasses in this one).
Instead, Radcliffe plays Wallace, a med-school dropout who's been burned by an ex-girlfriend. A chance meeting at a party with doe-eyed animator Chantry (Zoe Kazen) leads him to her doorstep, where she gives him her number while offhandedly mentioning that Ben (Rafe Spall), her boyfriend of five years must be wondering where she's been all night. And thus starts a budding friendship that is wrought with sexual tension.
Wallace inevitably becomes the guy who quietly pines for Chantry (a hipster name in 2014 if there ever was one), meets her handsome and successful lawyer boyfriend, and becomes her buddy who hangs with her whenever her significant other is off on a business trip somewhere very far away. All the while, Wallace's best friend, foul-mouthed Allan (who is delightfully played by Inside Llewyn Davis and Girls' Adam Driver), gives him some sound and also dude-like advice. Allan tells Wallace he has three choices in this situation—to be sleazy, conniving or pathetic.
The chemistry between Wallace and Chantry is undeniable, save for some awkward exchanges and pauses. Elan Mastai's screenplay—an adaption of the stage play by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi—writes in playful chats between the two. They share a dark sense of humor: they're obsessed with Elvis' calorie-heavy Fool's Gold sandwich, have chats about how pickles are just cucumbers in embalming fluid and talk a great deal about poop. Sometimes their banter is endearing and full of sass, sometimes it's a lot of rambling.
Even though What If falls into the trap of being sentimental with a rather obvious plot, what Mastai and director Michael Dowse (Goon, It's All Gone Pete Tong) are able to bring out are some relatable characters to the screen. Wallace works a drab cubicle job writing manuals and lives with his sister (who's a single mother) and her son. And Chantry isn't a super cutesy manic pixie girl who changes his life—she's also a regular person, and afraid of moving up to a management role in her job.
Wallace is self-deprecating, and a funny and nice guy who doesn't want to follow in his parents footsteps where they cheated on each other; he doesn't want to bring that into his relationship with Chantry to break her up with her boyfriend, and she doesn't want to cross that line either. (Although Ben's character serves more as a vehicle to move the plot, we're glad that he doesn't fall into some evil boyfriend stereotype you see in these types of rom-coms—he's actually kind of likeable even though he's a bit intense.)
It's refreshing to see a film centered around Toronto as well, showing real bits of the city instead of trying to pass it off as some other metropolitan city. And the sweet score from A.C. Newman of the New Pornographers carries a thoughtful and light tone throughout.
Nothing out of the ordinary happens in this film (though there is a great scene where Wallace and Chantry are left naked in the ocean water during a camping trip), and it isn't exactly groundbreaking in the rom-com department, but it sort of mirrors real-life relationships we can all understand. And hey, you get to learn how to make a Fool's Gold sandwich while you're at it.
'What If' opens today in theaters and is playing at AMC Century City 15, Arclight Hollywood and The Landmark in West L.A.