Even if the results haven’t always been successful, I’ve generally admired Daniel Radcliffe’s post-Harry Potter movie choices. He’s tended to go for bolder, more challenging roles but What If (re-named from its festival title The F Word) sees him headed in the opposite direction. He plays Wallace, a twenty-something Brit living in Toronto (if any explanation is given as to how he’s able to live there I missed it). He’s been moping around for a year due to his inability to get over his last break-up. His girlfriend cheated on him, leading him to drop out of medical school, he now works a ‘dead-end’ job, lives with his sister and never goes out. He’s the bumbling, humble if a little charming Brit rom-com lead, the ‘Hugh Grant’ type we’ve seen plenty of times before.
We meet him as he’s just been coerced by his friend Allan (Adam Driver) to go to a party for the first time. There he meet-cutes with Allan’s cousin Chantry (Zoe Kazan) and the two hit it off, they talk all night and walk home together, at which point Chantry casually mentions that she has a boyfriend. Understandably disappointed, Wallace decides not to pursue her, but then changes his mind when he randomly runs into her again a short time later. So yeah, as the original and better title suggested, this is yet another story that wishes to examine the question of ‘can a man and a woman be good friends without falling for each other?’, only to answer it with a definitive ‘no!’.
What If is all very familiar, predictable rom-com fare. There’s nothing remotely original or surprising here so it relies a lot on the leads. Even if Radcliffe’s basically playing himself, he’s a very likeable presence. Kazan’s doing her Ruby Sparks thing again, but it works well enough. To be fair, there’s nothing terrible either, director Michael Dowse (Goon) keeps matters breezing along inoffensively.
There’s a decent touch in that while both Wallace and Chantry deny that he’s interested in her romantically, some of the supporting characters see through it as easily as the audience will. Up-and-coming star Adam Driver is pretty amusing as the boisterous Allan, who even tries to engineer situations that will force them together. However it also takes the tiring approach of making Chantry’s boyfriend (Rafe Spall) an obnoxious asshole who jets off to Ireland for six months, where it’s heavily implied he cheats on her. I do wonder if a film presenting a scenario such as this has ever had the courage to examine the conundrum a girl like Chantry might face without this lazy option.
While happy to indulge in a multitude of rom-com clichés, What If also makes a few self-consciously ‘quirky’ decisions, such as the occasional appearances of an animated butterfly and an aside detailing the recipe for a calorific ‘Elvis sandwich’. These really just come across as the film trying too hard to hipster-ify a standard rom-com formula. And as it moves from one recognizable situation to the next, a standard rom-com is really all What If boils down to.