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28 August 2014

"You Never See Bruce Willis Expressing His Feelings"

It's been a while since I've seen a good rom-com and Michael Dowse's new film What If certainly did the trick. In fact, if you believe the posters on the side of the bus, which proclaim What If to be the best rom-com since (500) Days of Summer, it's been five years. You can't ignore the similarities between the two movies, and while What If isn't exactly breaking any new ground, it is perfectly charming and fun, if a little too quirky at times.

Our protagonist is Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe), an expat Brit and med-school dropout living in his sister's attic in Toronto. He is working a dead-end job and still hasn't got over his break-up with his girlfriend Megan over a year ago. Then, at a party hosted by his best friend Allan (Adam Driver), he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan), who turns out to be Allan's cousin, and with whom he makes an instant connection. They compose some fridge-magnet poetry, exchange banter and then walk home together. Chantry gives Wallace her number — it's all going great — and then she explains how hard it is to make male friends when she's been with her boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall) for so long.

Disappointed, Wallace throws away Chantry's number but then fate throws them together again at a screening of The Princess Bride (of course), and they agree to be friends. Eventually, Chantry decides to invite Wallace over for dinner so that he and Ben can meet. Ben is a successful international copyright lawyer for the UN and he doesn't care much for Wallace, especially after an incident with some chilli results in Wallace accidentally knocking him out of a first-floor window. But when Ben's job takes him to Dublin for six months, will Wallace and Chantry's friendship blossom into something more?

What If is often predictable and sometimes clich├ęd. Chantry is, of course, an animator who wears retrro tortoiseshell glasses (probably with clear lenses), and Radcliffe's Wallace is a bumbling Brit in the archetype of Hugh Grant (and, increasingly, Domhnall Gleeson). That said, Kazan and Radcliffe do have some chemistry together, and that is part of the reason why this film works. For a few moments, I thought Spall was going to steal the show but then he veered into caricature, before being exiled to Dublin; his Canadian accent wasn't too great either. As for the comic relief, Driver's Allan was mainly irritating, and his girlfriend Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) wasn't much better.

However, a good soundtrack, some cute animations — mainly in the final credits — and beautiful shots of Toronto in the summer elevate this movie. In fact, it's nice to see Toronto playing itself in a movie for once, instead of doubling up for whichever American city was too expensive to film in. I watched Dowse's last film, hockey movie Goon, on Netflix last year and it was similarly charming. Neither is a truly great film, but I enjoyed them both greatly.

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