What If (2014)

What If (released as The F Word in all countries but America, because America apparently can’t handle a title that even hints at profanity) is a funny movie about the friend zone. What is the friend zone? It’s when a guy has romantic feelings for a girl, but she just wants to be friends. It’s said he’s then put in the friend zone. Yes, it seems to be almost exclusively with those sexes in those roles. Why? I have no idea. The internet just paints this sort of picture.

In this film, the characters are Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe), a medical school dropout who doesn’t even believe in love, and Chantry (Zoe Kazan), the cousin of Wallace’s best friend, Allan (Adam Driver). Wallace and Chantry meet at a party, chat for seemingly ages, and at the end of the night, Chantry notes that she has a boyfriend, and that Wallace should meet him someday. “Friends?” she asks. “Why not?” he replies. And thus a friendship is born. It’s clear that Wallace wants more than that, but for most of the movie we kind of just watch them do friend-type things.

Scattered throughout are moments when it seems like one of them is going to make a move. Yes, Chantry also has feelings for Wallace. I bet you didn’t see that one coming! But she can’t act them because of the whole boyfriend thing. There are points throughout where it seems like one of them will finally make a move, but that’s just teasing. Lots and lots of teasing on the part of the movie. We also get to watch two likable people spend a good chunk of time together and have fun. So there’s that.

Of course, movies have constantly pondered whether men and women can “just be friends.” What do you think the answer is? In the history of movies, how many times has the answer been a resounding “yes”? You know that one of two things is going to happen. Either Chantry will dump her boyfriend and be with Wallace, or they’ll have a fight and never see each other again. And, given that this is still ostensibly a romantic comedy, chances are you’re going to be able to figure out which of these scenarios will play out.

Does its predictability make it not worth watching? Absolutely not. A movie can still be funny, charming, and enjoyable even if you can figure out how it’s going to end almost as soon as it begins. The script contains a large number of humorous moments, which means that for its 100 minutes, you’ll be laughing for a good chunk of the time. For a comedy, that’s the most important thing. And What If is a comedy. A romantic comedy, sure, but the “comedy” part takes up more of the film’s time and energy.

Take the scenes where all that’s happening is Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan are talking — awkwardly talking, often about nothing. These are hilarious scenes. They’re insightful — even with the lack of a distinct conversation topic. They’re sweet. And they’re the film’s best parts. They work for two reasons. The first is the script, assuming they weren’t ad-libbed. The second is the actors, who together have such a great chemistry that I wouldn’t be surprised if the two of them worked together again in the near future.

I mean, I’ve been as critical of Daniel Radcliffe’s post-Potter career as anyone — when you hire kids at the age of 12 or whenever, there’s no guarantee they have acting talent, and Radcliffe really hasn’t shown much in previous outings — but he might have finally found his niche. He’s awkward and charming, while also being genuinely funny. He and Zoe Kazan play well off one another, both when they’re actually just playing friends or when they have to hint at something more.

At first, it felt like What If would avoid most of the rom-com clichés that films of the genre often fall into. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. It doesn’t at all. It’s as cliché as cliché gets. Especially near the end. Fans of the genre will be fine with this, but if you’re someone who usually avoids romantic comedies because of this, well, that’s something to consider. This is still a good movie and one of the better romantic comedies you can see, but a bit more divergence from the formula would have improved it.

What If is a funny and sweet movie. It’s also a very predictable one. It works primarily because of a humorous script and two lead actors who have great chemistry together. You will laugh for most of it. You will also see exactly where it’s eventually going to go, even with all the teasing that the film gives you. Is it worth seeing? I think so. It was funny enough and its leads were enjoyable to watch. Does it rely too heavily on clichés, especially near the end? Sure, but that just comes with the territory.

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