What If is a rare breed these days - a romantic comedy that works without any of the requisite add-ons. The Michael Dowse movie is not a send-up, nor a deconstruction, hardly a reinvention, and packs no particular "twist" other than its above average attention to the nature of bustling romantic feelings beneath the sheen of platonic relationships. In earnest, What If is as traditional a rom-com as you'll see come out in theaters these days. The unusual thing: it's just really, really good.
The reasons why are incredibly simple. First, it's sweet. Daniel Radcliffe's unfortunately named Wallace might not fall too far from the typical genre hero that we're miraculously still able to stomach: the mopey, hapless, self-absorbed good guy who just wants the gal to notice how nice he is. But what separates Wallace is his empathy. What If gives him value, intellect, character, and, most importantly, a genuine interest in the even more unfortunately named Chantry (Zoe Kazan), the spoken-for young lady who wins his heart soon after the inception of their friendship.
Wallace isn't pining meaninglessly for the nearest unavailable hot chick; he and Chantry have chemistry. They're compatibly cynical (but not curmudgeonly) and idealistic (but not idiotic), equal doses awkward, and palpably conducive to one another's comfort. We can feel true friendship between Wallace and Chantry, which is what makes us root all the more for the hidden feelings to peer through.
The second reason: it's smart. Yes, What If takes some goofy missteps: Your usual rom-com contrivances - ad hoc plane trips, disastrous dinners, and third party romantic candidates in desperate need of psychological evaluation - are hot on display here, though seldom does the film sink to levels of abject ridiculousness. But on the whole, Wallace and Chantry's trip celebrates its characters' and viewers' intellect. It overthinks love, romance, friendship, and relationships, happily committing to that old Socrates gem.
Which brings us to the final and most important reason this movie is such a treat: it is really, really funny. Most of this is owed to Radcliffe, so swift with a joke that he even sells the clunkers. But Kazan herself is no slouch, nor are supporting players Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis, in the delivery of the script's musical wit.
Of all the great things that What If introduces us to - its ideas about friendship and love, the comic prowess of Daniel Radcliffe, and the glory of fridge magnets - the notion that good ol' fashioned rom-coms can still be downright terrific has got to be the most valuable. Thanks for reminding us!