What if you meet the person of your dreams but they’re already involved with someone else? What if you keep hanging around because having them in your life in any capacity is better than not having them at all? This is the premise of the film What If (originally titled The F Word) starring Daniel Radcliffe as Wallace, the smitten in the above scenario and Zoe Kazan as Chantry, the smitee (smiter? maybe more apt).
The two meet one night at a party thrown by the Alan (Adam Driver) who is Wallace’s old roommate and Chantry’s cousin. They bond over clever repartee and magnetic word poetry and by the end of the night, the leave together, Wallace walking Chantry to her door.
Naturally, this is the point where Chantry mentions the boyfriend she lives with as she’s handing Wallace her phone number and “hey, this was fun, let’s be friends.” Wallace agrees and goes to his happy place, the roof of the house he shares with his sister and her child, and promptly throws the phone number away. However, being a romantic comedy, the fates aren’t willing to leave it at that. They conspire to once again put the two together, this time emerging as solo attendees of a weeknight showing of The Princess Bride. Their eyes meet, they decide to have a coffee and before you can say “friend zone” they are besties – constantly texting and calling and sharing with each other. They have the kind of perfect relationship, where odd knowledge and weird trivia are interspersed with heart felt admissions — it’s the kind of dialogue you want to have with your best friend but only a few can really ever achieve it without the other thinking you’re batshit crazy.
Before long Wallace meets Ben (Rafe Spall) who is Chantry’s nice enough boyfriend. The two men have a perfectly friendly discussion where Ben lets it be known he’s okay if they’re friends, but if Wallace thinks he can break up Ben and Chantry, he’s got another think coming. Wallace assures him they are just friends. Then accidentally throws Ben out a second story window.
What follows is a typical rom-com plot. Is he actually in love with her? Yes. Is she really in love with him? Of course. There aren’t a lot of surprises here but the way it happens is sweet and fun. The relationship between Wallace and Alan is a nice best friend partnering, where no matter how angry they get at each other, no what stupid pranks they pull, they are still friends and they still want what’s best for the other, no matter the cost. The cast is spot on. Radcliffe is doing a great job showing his post Harry Potter versatility (and at some point, we’ll have to stop referencing HP in his resume because it’s filling out with other, more notable pieces of work) and Kazan is sweet and quirky and the kind of girl you want to fall in love with. But Driver and Mackenzie Davis, who plays Nicole, almost steal the show completely.
By the time the film ends, precisely where you expect it to, by the way, it leaves you with a smile on your face. No, this isn’t the way real life works, yes, this builds false hopes, but so what? We need our fairy tales. That all said, I would have loved if it had ended differently. Still happily, but, you know, (spoiler free) differently.
Behind the scenes, Director Michael Dowse (who did the 2011 film Goon, which I loved) does a serviceable job here. There are a couple of odd choices but nothing distracting. The script by Elan Mastai (based on the stage play Toothpaste and Cigars by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi) feels true which is nice. It’s painful when it needs to be painful and doesn’t let its characters off the hook easily. There’s a price to be paid for every action.
For a cold wintry evening, this is a nice little bit of warmth.