Set in beautiful Toronto, Canada, What if is the story of love and its complications, and the question of why two people just cannot get together. Well, as this particular story unfolds it is understood that there could be any vast number of reasons why. An even more profound question might be why human beings cannot reveal to one another when they are in love or why people cannot even recognize when they are in love.
The tagline of this film is “Being Friends Has Its Benefits,” and it does not capture the virtue of this film and the story line. While it may be play on words from a pop culture proverb (“friends with benefits”), the tagline puts one in the mind of the popular adage which in no way resembles the relationship between the two protagonists, Wallace (Danielle Radcliffe) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan).
Wallace is a medical student who dumps his girlfriend for cheating on him. He’s been wallowing in his own sorrow until he meets Chantry at a party. The two instantly connect and Wallace offers to walk Chantry home with that sure feeling in his spirit that the two have made a romantic connection.
Wallace and Chantry stop in front of her home, and as Chantry writes down her number for Wallace she rather nonchalantly reveals that she lives with her boyfriend. In Wallace’s mind this ends all hope for a romantic union, but Chantry takes to Wallace and embraces him as a platonic friend. Wallace acquiesces even though he knows that he desires more than friendship.
As Chantry and Wallace carry on together as best friends even their circle of friends can see that they belong together. Wallace’s best friend, who is also Chantry’s cousin Allen (Adam Driver), steals scene after scene as a somewhat obnoxious sort who tries to counsel Wallace on the subject of Chantry. Driver as Allen is the film’s deadpan scene-stealer and a sheer pleasure to watch. He jives alongside Radcliffe in a zany marriage of his comic persona to Radcliffe’s wearied straight-man .
As times goes on Wallace continues to grope along in his friendship with Chantry while even his most unlikely friend Allen finds true love and eventually marries.
Directed by Michael Dowse, and written for the screen by Elan Mastai (adapted from the play Toothpaste and Cigars by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi), What If painstakingly guides Wallace and Chantry into their destiny with each other.
While this film is indeed a romantic comedy, it serves as a sobering reminder that love is very often complicated, and that human beings are delicate and often befuddled, which lends to the proverbial wisdom about love not being hurried.
Human beings are often preoccupied with the what-ifs. What if she doesn’t like me? What if I tell her I that I’d like to spend time with her? What if he doesn’t like me once he knows that I… (fill in the blank)? The absence of certainty and nagging apprehensions are often daunting and debilitating.
Radcliffe is believable and charming as the frazzled and yet patient Wallace. Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of famed director Elia Kazan) is also believable as an intelligent young woman who believes in working out a union instead of breaking up. While Kazan is not a raving beauty, she possesses a girl-next-door appeal that may continue to allow her to be cast in leading roles.
Rated PG13 and running for 102 minutes, the What If love story is convincing and laced with an air of virtue. The Wallace and Chantry characters are not two libido-driven imbeciles, and the story was not directed or penned with gratuitous sex in mind. It is preferably what some audiences are looking to see as they sift through the proverbial haystack of run of the mill romantic comedies to find a needle like What If.
What if is in limited release and can be seen in selected theaters. It rates four out of five stars.
Reviewed by Janet Walters Levite