So many romantic comedies are just lame and insipid affairs, but still I occasionally seem to find hope when I see a trailer or read a blurb about some quirky, melancholy new entry. It might actually (gasp) be funny and romantic. I blame Richard Curtis and (500) Days of Summer for these glimmers, and mostly it’s a bad thing because movies very rarely can live up to those touchstones. However, the premise and cast of the new film What If had me intrigued. Daniel Radcliffe in a rom-com? Hey, and Adam Driver’s in it also? That looks like it could, at least, be pretty funny. The trailer seemed to give away the entire film, but you can’t always tell from marketing. So I went in with hope that it would be at least entertaining and maybe a little but innovative. Sadly, it’s certainly not innovative and only moderately entertaining.
A movie about men and women being friends is no new thing, but there was a very good chance What If might actually come down on the side of, yes, as difficult as it might be, men and women CAN just be friends and overcome their physical attraction and romantic feelings. Not every single heterosexual friendship has to either lead to being more than friends, right? Surely this one movie might actually make it seem like that’s possible. But, no. No, no, no.
Daniel Radcliffe plays Wallace, a depressed twenty-something Englishman living in Toronto with his older sister and her young son. He’s depressed because his girlfriend had an affair and he had to break up with her… a year earlier. We meet him sitting on a roof almost calling her and then not. His friend Allan (Adam Driver) is having a party and Wallace reluctantly goes, eventually meeting Allan’s cousin Chantry (Zoe Kazan) who is just the right kind of adorkable that might get him out of his funk. After chatting all evening and walking her home, Wallace discovers that Chantry has a longterm boyfriend (Rafe Spall) with whom she lives. She still wants to be friends, though, and gives him her number. He doesn’t call. OBVIOUSLY. Why would he call?
Wallace and Chantry chance to meet again at a screening of The Princess Bride, which they’ve both gone to alone. They hit it off again and decide, sure, let’s be friends. They begin hanging out on the regular and, despite every word to the contrary, Wallace begins to fall for her. Allan is a passionate sort and has hooked up with another wild child named Nicole (Mackenzie Davis), and together they keep trying to find ways to make romantic sparks happen between Wallace and Chantry. The boyfriend is a super nice guy, BUT he just so happens to work for the United Nations and has to be in Dublin for a lot of the time meaning Chantry is by herself with Wallace a lot. Her sister Dalia (Megan Park) wants to get it on with Wallace, which Chantry shouldn’t care about at all, right? RIGHT?
This movie is so exactly what you expect every romantic comedy to be that it’s almost like it was written from a “How to Write a Romantic Comedy” course at the adult learning annex. Despite some witty banter and some good performances from everyone involved, especially Radcliffe, What If never manages to do more than every single other “Men and Women Can’t Be Friends” movie ever made. I think there are lots of men and women out there who could stand up and give a dozen reasons why that thesis statement is wrong. It’s a bunch of fluffy, syrupy schmaltz housed in a dilemma that doesn’t ever seem that dilemma-like. If you like your movie confections on the marshmallowy side, this might be for you, but it just gave me a toothache.