The romantic comedy seems to be a genre on continual life-support—never healthy enough to ditch the I.V., but never quite bad enough to have the plug pulled. With “What If,” the rom-com rolls sideways on the gurney, playing minor variations on the theme with a story that is alternately endearing and irritating.
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan star as Wallace and Chantry, two strangers who meet at a party and make an instant connection. Trouble is, Chantry has a long-time boyfriend (Rafe Spall) and Wallace has been burned by a lingering year-ago break-up. So they decide to keep it just a friendship. But despite the reasonable advice of Wallace’s best friend (Adam Driver) and his new love (Mackenzie Davis), things get complicated when the friendship leads to deeper feelings that Wallace and Chantry try to deny, but can’t.
Radcliffe and Kazan are well-cast and make a pleasant, believable couple, with their hang-dog resilience and restrained, off-the-cuff wit. The emotions of their relationship feel natural enough, and there’s a tuneful rhythm in their line readings. It really is nearly impossible to dislike Radcliffe, who’s got a keen ear and eye for the decent-but-wounded fellow role, and a body language of blunt sincerity that turns his smallish stature into an advantage. So far, he seems incapable of giving a slick or insincere performance. Keep your fingers crossed.
Director Michael Dowse knows what’s expected in the formula and still manages to deliver a few surprises, including some flighty animated bits that are skillfully woven into the story (Chantry works as an animator, so its not just whimsy). I liked that the long-time boyfriend is never quite the jerk that these kinds of things seem to demand, and for once, the leading man gets a punching from him that is played more for just deserts than poor-puppy sympathy.
But the film is also pinned down at times by stretches of off-putting verbal humor and pushy narrative turns, including an early slapsticky sequence that ends in a very unlikely fall out of a window, and an ending that takes too long to arrive.
The script by Elan Mastai was based on a stage play by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi, one with the quirky title “Toothpaste and Cigars.” Sometimes too stagy and quick-witted for its own good, “What If” has a wry sharpness in the dialogue that works best when it’s not trying quite so hard.
The Blu-ray of “What If” is presented in1080p High Definition, in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There are options for subtitles in English, English SDH and Spanish. I had some playback issues in the extras segments. And what’s the deal with that case cover photo? Radcliffe looks like a mugshot of the “Straight To Video Strangler.” Did an executive at the Spahn Ranch approve this?
The audio track is 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Everything works, no complaints, no bells and whistles.
- “Opposites Attract” – an okay promotional featurette, with interviews of cast and crew, and info about the main characters
- “Blurred Lines” – another promotional featurette, very similar to “Opposites Attract,” but more about the themes and ideas of the film.
- “A Modern Love Story” – redundant promo that duplicates much of what’s in the first two promo shorts.
- a set of deleted scenes—not bad as far as these things go
- Behind The Scenes of “What If” – an extensive, multi-part featurette, with commentary by writer Elan Mastai, director Michael Dowse and many cast members.
Longish and uneven, but buoyed by appealing lead performances and some crispy dialogue, “What If” doesn’t revive the romantic comedy but doesn’t pull the plug either.