Movie Review: “What If”, starring Daniel Radcliffe
Can a friendship last if one is in love with the other?
Is there such a thing as an “instant connection”?
How do you get when you’re in love?
Is there something more?
The taglines of Daniel Radcliffe’s new film, What If (formally The F Word ), reads like someone’s diary. But – aren’t they true? Who hasn’t been in that situation? You meet someone who is so “perfect” for you in so many ways, and they are either attached or unavailable. I think exactly this – the truthful, honest nature of the film – is what makes it total and complete success.
Medical school dropout Wallace has been repeatedly burned by bad relationships. He meets Chantry, an animator who lives with her longtime boyfriend Ben, and they form an instant connection, striking up a close friendship. Still, there is no denying the chemistry between them, leading the pair to wonder, what if the love of your life is actually your best friend?
There has been a lot of slack for this film; that neither of the leads are particularly “Hollywood beautiful”, that it’s a total rip off of When Harry Met Sally, or worse – that it is yet another cookie-cutter, predictable RomCom. Well, most of that isn’t true! To get a very tiny bit honest here, I have actually found myself in a Wallace-like situation as of late. I have this friend who is basically “perfect” for me in so many ways. We had the moment of instant connection when we met, and have been close friends since. Unfortunately for me, my life isn’t a RomCom and things didn’t work out perfectly in the end. It’s okay though, we are still friends – but I digress. My point is, this movie hit nerves and feelings that I have been dealing with for months now, and for me, that made it all the more successful.
The movie does start off with a very adorable meet cute. Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) & Chantry (Zoe Kazan) meet at a party for his college roommate (her cousin) and bond over their mutual love of magnetic poetry. After the party, they proceed to walk towards their homes together, which are conveniently in the same direction! While writing down her phone number, Chantry drops the bomb FAR too late that she does indeed have a boyfriend – a live-in boyfriend, nonetheless. Wallace, as you would, loses all hope at the moment, rids himself of her number, and tries to move on. We are then treated to a montage of events that they both attend separately and yet never see each other. Finally, after a viewing of The Princess Bride (!!), they actually do notice each other and the diner scene from the film’s one sheet takes place.
My problem with most RomCom’s is that at this point, over cheap diner food, they would quickly fall in love with each other. Chantry would run home and dump her boyfriend and they would live happily ever after. But not this time. I think Zoe said it best when asked why this film was special:
“One of the things I’m proud of about the movie is that it sort of deals with that period of time that most romantic comedies skip over, which is how do these two people fall in love? What do they have in common? You know, usually you get kind of like a montage, and they’re like picking flowers and sharing some cheese, and the whole movie is like picking flowers and sharing cheese. I think in this movie you get what brings these two people together […]. There’s a lot of getting to know you stuff.”
The bulk of the film is scenes and moments between Chantry & Wallace that really highlight their connection, friendship, and deep (obviously confused) feelings towards each other. There is an absolutely adorable scene where Wallace goes dress shopping with Chantry (as you do…) and she gets “stuck” in her dress. She pleads with him to help her, but OMG keep your eyes closed! Really, who is she kidding? Wallace of course does peek, and sees a tattoo between her shoulders – but obviously cannot mention it. Daniel plays this moment so beautifully, like anyone who is in love with their friend would. It was a very sweet scene, and perfectly reflected the feelings that anyone would be feeling in that moment.
About half way through the film, Chantry’s boyfriend Ben (played by Rafe Spall) gets an amazing opportunity to work in Dublin, Ireland for six months. This provides the perfect opportunity for Wallace to move in on Chantry, and if this was a normal RomCom, he would. Instead, their friendship only deepens. A few days after Ben’s departure, Chantry decides she wants to drown her sorrows, so Wallace takes her out for a night of drinking, ping pong, and revealing late night chats on the telephone. They exchange what the worst moments of their lives have been – and the world flips for the pair of them. I think it is at this moment that the pair realize they are both in love with each other. It’s the perfect little scene, and is truthful – so truthful. We have all had those conversations that we don’t want to end, that last into the wee hours of the morning.
I don’t want to give away the last third of the film, so all I will say is this: unfortunately it was lacking for me. All of the amazing themes, laughter, intimate moments, and general truthful nature of the film up until this point is a little lost in the ending. It’s where the plot takes a turn for the cookie-cutter and it made me so sad! It suffers from Return of the King syndrome: too many scenes after what should’ve been the ending. Don’t get me wrong, it was still absolutely beautiful. There were moments of laughter, tears, happiness, the full gamut of emotions.
It was also so refreshing to see Daniel Radcliffe play a modern, British man without round glasses or an affinity for horses. His physical comedy skills get a real workout in this film, and I am so excited to see where he goes next!
Overall, I truly enjoyed What If and would happily watch it again. Too few films feel real these days, and while the ending of this film was a little too easy, the undertone and rhythm of this one is a special gem. It forced me, and will likely force other viewers, to really take a look at their relationships and how we interact with one another. Maybe your perfect match is someone already in your life…