How many guys (or girls) have faced the dilemma posed as the central conceit of What If: Can a guy and a girl just be friends without feelings/relationship/desire/sex getting in the way? It’s an interesting question and I’m sure at the very least someone you know has probably experienced the uncomfortable situation of being friends with a member of the opposite sex in the hopes that they can make the jump from friend to ‘something more’.
What If gives us Daniel Radcliffe, the grown up Harry Potter himself playing Wallace, a med-school dropout and relationship recovering 20-something living in Toronto. Still trying to get over his last relationship from a year ago, he happens to meet Chantry played by Zoe Kazan–a down to earth manic pixie dream girl who he has an instant connection with and who brightens up an otherwise dull party. After enjoying a wonderful evening of conversation and even walking Chantry home, she drops the bomb on him . . . she has a boyfriend but still wants to be friends with him. Awesome right? Dumbstruck and not really sure of what to make of the situation, Wallace talks himself into the friendship as having some sort of relationship with her is still better than nothing.
What I like about the movie is that it feels pretty authentic how Wallace tries to navigate his friendship with Chantry. The role of being the good friend, the behind the scenes silent anguish, the rationalizing of it all; a lot of what Wallace goes through is exactly what happens when you’re in that type of situation. He wants to get his feelings out, but because of the complexity of the situation, he fears that once he does, he could lose everything.
The chemistry between Kazan and Radcliffe have between their characters quite good. Kazan plays Chantry as sort of a free spirit type, but a bit more reliable and reasonable as she’s always trying to make everything work (her job, relationship, friendship). Radcliffe on the opposite side is loveable and affable in his portrayal of Wallace. Their characters are obviously awkward at first, but as the film goes on and their friendship (and feelings) start to grow, you do see them as this cohesive unit and begin to wonder, “Why don’t they just get together?” If there’s one knock against them, it’s that their characters definitely feel like characters from an indie rom-com as they have a lot of weird and random banter between each other; more than I felt would happen in real life.
Since it’s a rom-com, we’re obviously heading towards some sort of conflict where feelings come out, people are hurt and/or are mad, and we end up with a rift between the guy and the girl. While I won’t give anything away, I did feel the way both characters handled the confrontation was fairly reasonable (up to a point) and felt pretty authentic, unlike studio rom-coms where the girl has unbelievably high expectations or where a misunderstanding is blown WAY out of proportion. In these movies I also feel that someone has to be a dick since if there’s a love triangle, the third wheel is usually sacrificed so that the main characters can get together. What If handles both of these hurdles pretty well and I left the theater feeling pretty upbeat about where Chantry and Wallace ended up and how they got there.
With summer winding down and movie-date night options being really scarce, What If fills that void by being a rom-com that’s fairly realistic and isn’t melodramatic. I’m sure guys won’t be clamoring to see it, but they can take comfort in the fact that What If rises above the rest in the genre. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s cute; and you could do far worse seeing something else this weekend.
What If expands this weekend and can be seen at Consolidated Kahala 8, Consolidated Ko’olau Stadium 10, and Regal Dole Cannery 18.
3.5/5 stars // rated PG-13 // 1hr 42min