How hard is it to make a good romantic comedy these days? Find two people with lots of chemistry, provide them with plenty of back-and-forth banter, stand back and watch the sparks fly. In the last few years, this simple formula has been replaced with contrived plots (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) or terrible Katherine Heigl movies (Life as We Know It) that have almost destroyed the entire genre. What If bucks rom-com’s downward trend and is the first rom-com in several years to get the formula just right.
Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is a med school dropout who, one year later, is finally getting over his most recent break-up. He meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party, they bond over magnetic poetry and immediately hit it off. Chantry even gives Wallace his number, but not before telling him she has a boyfriend. Oops!
Despite his obvious attraction, Wallace continues to spend time with Chantry, under the guise of being friends. This leads to all sorts of funny bits, including meeting Chantry’s boyfriend, a great discussion about sex nachos and a particularly awkward moment in a lady’s dressing room, where poor Wallace has to pull a dress off Chantry that she’s stuck in.
What If isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t have lofty aspirations. The film, and everyone involved, knows exactly what they’re doing, and that’s making a very, very solid rom-com. Radcliffe and Kazan are magnetic together, throwing lines at each other faster than you can say His Girl Friday. Half of the time, it feels like the pair are just hanging out and having fun, except there’s a camera filming them. Even the supporting cast, which includes Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, Megan Park and Rafe Spall, are clearly having a blast with each other onscreen. There is an abundance of poop jokes throughout, almost as if director Michael Dowse (the underseen gem Goon) worried that most guys would be turned off by a funny, solid, entertaining rom-com that didn’t have a bunch of poop jokes.
Post Harry Potter, Radcliffe has been on a roll. He’s done everything but play a character akin to Potter, and he is all the better for it. From The Lady in Black to Kill Your Darlings, he’s shown a willingness to stretch his muscles every chance he gets. With What If, Radcliffe uses his British accent, non-threatening persona and innate likability (who wouldn’t want to get a drink with this guy?), to full effect, and winds up a better rom-com leading man than … dare I say it … Matthew McConaughey.
What If avoids most of the pitfalls that have doomed the romantic comedy as of late, and with winning performances from the entire cast, has crafted a fun, late summer date movie that’s actually worth seeing.