Thursday, July 17, 2014

'What If' review

After the conclusion of the Harry Potter series, many asked what the young stars of the series would do next. Their lives had been almost consumed by the franchise for ten years and their roles were so defining and iconic at this point, that nobody really knew what they could do to separate themselves from the characters. Three years later, we have a much better idea. Emma Watson has become a bona fide superstar with roles in films like Noah, This is the End and The Perks of Being A Wallflower. She's on the A-list now and I think that she'll be there for a long time. Rupert Grint has pretty much disappeared off the planet. His only notable roles have been in films like Charlie Countryman and CBGB. The series' main star, Daniel Radcliffe, falls somewhere in the middle. He starred in The Woman in Black in 2012 and appeared in the critically acclaimed Kill Your Darlings, but he hasn't had any other big mainstream roles. All of this brings us to What If, a new romantic comedy starring Radcliffe in one of his first major post-Potter roles. What If is a pleasantly entertaining comedy with whip-smart dialogue and great performances from its young leads. It's quite predictable at times, but in the end, What If is a really enjoyable film.

Wallace (Radcliffe) is at a point in his life where he really doesn't know what to do. He dropped out of med school after he caught his girlfriend cheating on him and then spent a year trying to figure out what to do. At a party thrown by his best friend and roommate Allan (Adam Driver), Wallace meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan), a girl who he forms an instant connection with. The only problem is that Chantry has a boyfriend (Rafe Spall) and they've been dating for five years. Wallace and Chantry decide to be "just friends" but Wallace always wants more than that. However, he doesn't want to ruin the relationship and it all just ends up being quite messy.

What If is a film that benefits from its strong dialogue and the wonderfully charismatic leads. In many ways, this is an incredibly generic rom-com on paper, but the actors and screenwriters manage to elevate the material to another level. Radcliffe, Kazan, Driver, Spall and Mackenzie Davis (who plays Allan's girlfriend) are incredibly talented and funny leads and some of them would fit in well in a Woody Allen comedy. And at times, this feels like a Woody Allen film. It's smart and cynical and romantic and quite terrific. However, the cliches and genre trappings become quite obvious at the end and it all wraps up quite tidily. It's a film that is quite unique in many aspects, so I was hoping for a less predictable story at times. Nonetheless, What If is one of the better romantic comedies in recent memory and a great showcase for some of the most talented young actors in Hollywood.

The script is quite wonderful and the film moves at a strong pace that keeps the audience constantly interested. This is a film that starts and never truly stops. It's always moving and that's slightly odd for a romantic comedy. However, it truly works and it's one of the best things about this film. The fact that What If moves at a faster pace than most action blockbusters is astounding and frankly, kind of awesome. The pace gives the film a spark of life and a personality that separates it from every other derivative rom-com from the last twenty years.

The dialogue is also incredibly smart and the actors consistently deliver it well. What If is a PG-13 film, so the dialogue isn't terribly filthy, but the discussions about sex and love are quite frank at times. Still, the dialogue is fast and witty and actually quite intelligent. What If is a film that looks at love from the perspective of both men and women and it's fascinating. It's also very funny. This is not just a romantic film- it's also a non-stop laugh fest. It's a hilarious film from start to finish.

I love the actors in this film and all of them do a terrific job. Radcliffe does a great job as Wallace and he proves that he can be a real movie star someday. People wondered if he truly had a future in acting after Potter and I believe that What If is confirmation that he does. Zoe Kazan is also pretty good as Chantry, Wallace's love interest. Kazan and Radcliffe's characters are very similar and the two actors have great chemistry. Adam Driver is one of the best young actors in Hollywood and he consistently delivers as Allan. Driver is hilarious and I can't wait to see him get some bigger roles (he is one of the main stars of Star Wars: Episode VII). And finally, Mackenzie Davis is good as Nicole, Allan's wild girlfriend. This is definitely a different role for her (she plays a very serious character on AMC's Halt and Catch Fire) and I was glad to see that. In general, the acting in this movie is quite brilliant. They all elevate the film to another level.

This film will inevitably be compared to other famous romantic comedies, simply because it's actually a good film. I've already read one review that compared it to When Harry Met Sally and the poster compares it to (500) Days of Summer. Even I compared it to a Woody Allen movie earlier in the review. Most of the time, that's just studio created hype, but in this instance, I would encourage you to believe it. While the film has a few problems, this is definitely a stellar addition to the romantic comedy genre.

Like I said previously, my only problem with this film is that it ends up falling into the usual romantic comedy trappings at the end. It's a quirky and offbeat film for about 75% of its runtime, but it ends up being sort of conventional and predictable towards the end. However, even the cliched stuff is tweaked just a little bit so it feels somewhat fresh and new. I wish that the filmmakers had stuck the landing with a more unique and interesting ending, but everything ends up coming together just a little too neatly.

Nonetheless, What If is a terrific romantic comedy and a good bit of summer counter-programming. The lead actors are terrific and the dialogue is often intelligent and hilarious. If this movie is a hit (and I think that it will be), I'm betting that we see a lot more from director Michael Dowse and the appealing lead stars. If you're looking for a good date movie or something that's just a little bit different this summer, you really can't go wrong with What If, one of the better romantic films of the year.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+                                            (7.5/10)

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