‘What If’ poses the question “Can men and women really be friends?” for about the billionth time in a romantic comedy, and the answer is once again, “No, because they’re probably, secretly super in love.” For anyone who has seen ‘When Harry Met Sally’ or pretty much any romantic comedy with ambition since, ‘What If’ will feel incredibly familiar. Thankfully, the flick goes through those creaky motions as effectively as possible.
The requisite BFFs/inevitable couple at the center of the story are Danielle Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan, a duo with just enough quirk and appeal to carry a slightly off-kilter mainstream romantic comedy. The tale starts out a bit rough when they meet cute at a party and engage in the type of impossibly stylized flirty banter than only occurs in movies written by neurotics fantasizing about how love is supposed to work. Fortunately, the night ends with Kazan admitting that she has a boyfriend. When the duo meet again at a ‘Princess Bride’ screening, their dialogue stops being so nauseatingly precious and begins to approach naturalism. Kazan and Radcliffe try their best to be buddies, but once her live-in boyfriend (Rafe Spall) takes off for six months in Dublin, their emotions and hormones take over and everything goes all topsy-turvy and lovey-dovey. Toss in some wisecracking best buds for each character and some lightly whimsical music, and you’ve got yourself a rom-com that delivers just enough of both “oms” to work.
While Radcliffe and Kazan each do their half of carrying the movie with ease, most of the credit for the fact that ‘What If’ didn’t turn out to be tiresomely twee should be credited to Canadian director Michael Dowse. He’s the man behind ‘Fubar’ and ‘Goon‘, two warm and filthy movies about as unsentimental as a kick to the teeth. While the screenplay can get navel-gazing in its overly stylized dialogue comprised of rat-a-tat repartee and zingers, Drowse keeps the performances naturalistic and sneaks in a little filthy comedy whenever possible. The movie is as charming as its leads, and gets away with clinging to the ‘When Harry Met Sally’ formula purely because the requisite laughs and chemistry are present. The movie might not reinvent the genre or even try to, but it proves that the old gal can still work when made by talented people who care.
The big problems with the movie are mostly to do with the familiarity of the formula and a lack of interest in delving seriously into any ugly emotions in favor of extra chuckles and sweetums. However, the major frustration some viewers might have with the project is the fact that it contains a far more interesting romantic comedy in the sidelines. Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis show up in support as Radcliffe’s best friends and prove to be a perfect pairing. Not only is their mini love story more believable and less conventional, but the duo are far better at making their dialogue sound realistic and infinitely funnier than either of the two leads. While ‘What If’ is always enjoyable, it really comes alive whenever Driver and Davis appear on screen, and it’s hard not to wish that Drowse would just keep his cameras on them rather than pushing them aside in favor of the emo hipster central couple who already feel like they’re capturing out-of-date personality types.
Ah well, at least the movie even features two characters that engaging in supporting roles, which you can’t say about most examples of this genre. ‘What If’ is certainly worth watching and makes rom-coms look good. Let’s just hope someone notices the movie starring Driver and Davis that could have been and makes that one soon, because that would actually be well deserved a shot in the arm for the date movie.