Film Review: What If

I’m not ashamed to admit that the first time I saw the trailer for What If I actually thought it didn’t look too bad. I thought it looked like your typical non offensive, no doubt formulaic teenage rom-com that would leave you slightly bored but in a strangely good way having given you a seemingly uplifting boy meets girl, overly simplistic love story.

And so, as is always the case with teenage romantic comedies, I ignored it cinema release. This is the kind of film that for reasons of stereotypical judgement you never want to admit to seeing in public. Especially as a male in his thirties. This is the type of film you watch at home, as if it’s somehow better to sit alone and pretend you don’t have a soft spot for unrealistic tales of love (and you can remove the tasteless thoughts from your head right away.)

Daniel Radcliffe & Zoe Kazan - What If

Sadly though What If just fails to even come close to the heights that modern teenage love stories need to reach. It just doesn’t feel real. The entire premise and setting of the movie just feel wrong. I honestly cannot find a single thing about the world in which they live that makes me think for one second it could possible exist. The entire movie just feels forced. From the story to the performances to the clichéd ending. And what makes this even worse is the fact that the film just has no charm. You can take films like Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, She’s All That, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower and no matter how good or bad the finished film they all have a charm, a realism to them that means you believe, even if it’s just a parting thiought, that somehow they could be real. This doesn’t do that.

What If falls squarely alongside Ruby Sparks as being a film which just feels dead and awkward. Devoid of anything to actually connect you to it. And like Ruby Sparks, at the centre of all of this is Zoe Kazan. In this she just plays a naive and bumbling girl, the personality trait referred to as “ditsy”, all sweet and innocent. Yet, I just found her nasty and manipulative and somehow blinding to the characters around her.

Mainly Daniel Radcliffe, who just looks and feels totally wrong. He has managed to shake off the Harry Potter tag, I never once saw the boy wizard, but the wide angle shots seemed to just accentuate how short he actually is, and his overall performance just implied an actor who sadly has matured out of his profession. He just never convinces, and never looks comfortable. He just feels like a big name lacking belief.

Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) - What If

For all over Radcliffe’s problems, the extended cast are even worse. Best mate Adam Driver takes chalk and cheese friendships to such an extreme that honestly, the simple idea that they are friends because they used to flat share in college is stretching believability too far and Jemima Rooper’s casting and accent so grating to the tone of the rest of the film I actually reacted in the same way as I do to people rubbing metal cutlery together everytime she was on screen. That tingly-spasm down my spine.

Worse of all this the story though. It’s just dull and slow and boring. It’s 98minutes long and yet feels closer to 150. And it never changes pace, it just monotonously trudges forward. It’s idea to change emotional state or to try and reach out to you isn’t through writing but rather cliché. Flowery overlays awkward pauses and silly jokes littering a story already faltering and weak.

Coldplay Soundtrack - What If

Annoyingly I just have to keep finding problems. Because even the soundtrack is limp and forgetful. You can forgive so much in teenage comedies, especially when naive love is involved, because normally, they salvage some strength through their music. They manage to hit the right note at the right moment, even if the characters or story are out of key. The tunnel scene with David Bowie’s Heroes in Wallflower, or Rachael Leigh Cook stumbling on the stairs to Sixpence None The Richer in She’s All That springing to mind. Implausibly silly but upliftingly charming.

That’s all missing though because the soundtrack shy’s away from anything emotional. Anything moving. It just keeps its head down and hides in the background, and there are times when you literally expect it to burst into lift, there was one moment where any song by Coldplay would fit perfectly and instead you can almost hear the speakers sigh in resigned failure.

I was drawn to What If for some reason, and honestly, I didn’t actually expect much from it. It’s a teenage rom-com. It should be the type of movie that will be predictable and cheesy. But it should leave me feeling warm and happy and give me a few moments in which real life, plausibility, responsibility is suspended and it doesn’t. It just gives you a forced tale of characters who’d have gone their separate ways a long, long time before.

It’s not What If but rather Why Bother?

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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