Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan star in a rom-com in which their characters shy away from being more than friends.
Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party thrown by his old college roommate Allan (Adam Driver). They spark off each other, and Chantry turns out to be Allan’s cousin, and to have a boyfriend… Wallace promptly ‘loses’ her number, but when they run into each other again because their shared interests are farcically obvious he decides to endure copyright lawyer Ben (Rafe Spall) for the sake of Chantry; and an email correspondence begins with discussing Elvis’ fatal cuisine. Wallace lives with his sister Ellie (Jemima Rooper), after a scarring break-up with an uncredited Sarah Gadon; which led to him dropping out of med school. When Allan moves to Dublin for a conference on international copyright, working alongside the attractive Julianne (Oona Chaplin), Allan and his new girlfriend (Mackenzie Davis) decide to make Wallace stop asking ‘What if?’
I enjoyed What If but quite often its ribald dialogue seemed to me to be trying too hard. Now that may sound odd after recent encomiums on Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, but their ribaldry cannot be detached from the warm-heartedness of their absurdist riffs; it’s intrinsic to their comedy. The salty dialogue of What If feels extrinsic to the comedy because of its superfluity, which is odd because director Michael Dowse worked with Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel on Goon, so perhaps it’s TJ Dawe and Michael Rinaldi’s play that’s to blame. Having said which it is that almost mythical creature – the romantic comedy that’s actually funny, a speech on Bruce Willis’ manliness is peerless. It’s also very interesting. The hero who’s crippled romantically by his traumatised desire to act ethically gives a lot of substance to the comedy.
Daniel Radcliffe is sensational. A Young Doctor’s Notebook served notice of his comedy chops, but this is one of 2014’s best performances, combining uncomprehending deadpan and dramatic sharpness. Driver and Davis, despite lifting a Seth Rogen/Michelle Williams routine from Take This Waltz, are highly amusing in their matchmaking antics. Davis’ wild child is oddly reminiscent of Katy Perry, and strikingly different from her bookworm in We Gotta Get Out Of This Place. There’s also the joy of seeing Irish financing cause proceedings to up sticks from a major North American city (see if you can guess which one before the postcard scene) for a sequence in the tiny Irish metropolis. Tiny. A city, extending from Mick Wallace’s Italian Quarter, over the bridge, thru Temple Bar, and up to College Green; which somehow houses Ballsbridge residences. And so to Zoe Kazan…
Kazan does nothing to win me over after Ruby Sparks and Orson Welles & Me. Chantry’s willingness to string Wallace along isn’t loveable, but What If is a strong enough movie to carry her.