Michael Dowse’s What If is a romantic comedy that tries to break the conventions generally employed by this genre. This succeeds at some points, gently piquing the audience’s interest and providing some enjoyable moments. Unfortunately, in trying so hard to avoid certain clichés, the film inadvertently falls into others.
Of course, the hype around this film is centred on one thing: the casting of Daniel Radcliffe. There was a huge amount of expectation on the star and it even made headlines last week that the film’s premiere in Mexico was scrapped due to fears of a stampede from the hordes of Radcliffe’s fans. Fortunately, the actor does deliver in portraying Wallace, a likeable and even sometimes funny male lead. However, it’s Zoe Kazan who steals the show with her charming rendering of unusual Chantry.
Although the two actors do the best they can with their characters, the script doesn’t allow them to develop very far. At first the characters and their actions seem real, they’re slightly dorky, their lives are unglamorous and Chantry has a boyfriend who’s actually a nice guy. As the film moves on, though, the platitudes begin rolling in. Meaningful eye contact during Wallace’s best man speech, drunken phone calls in bed, the cliché reaches its peak when Wallace follows Chantry to Dublin to confess his love.
Perhaps the more interesting relationship is between Wallace’s best friend – and Chantry’s cousin – Allan, and his wife. They are irritating, energetic and funny, providing great one liners such as “love’s dirty baby, sometimes it’s downright filthy”. They’re much more flawed than the leading couple but if the film was based on them, it would no doubt be less clichéd.
What If also employs cinematic methods to try and avoid being a typical rom com. Chantry is an illustrator and there is a thread of Juno-esque animation that runs through the film. Occasionally, this seems to a have a link with the plot but often it feels shoe-horned in and we wonder why we are watching an animated butterfly fly around Toronto.
Despite putting in a solid performance, Radcliffe and Kazan cannot beat the lightweight and hackneyed plot they are dealt. As a romantic comedy the film is enjoyable and amusing, but it fails in its aspirations to rise above the stereotypes of its genre.
What If is released nationwide on 20th August 2014.
Watch the trailer for What If here: