Movie review: Sweet cast helps 'What If' through questionable premise
Every generation gets its version of a "When Harry Met Sally â¦" movie a romantic comedy that gets philosophical about whether men and women can be "just" friends and for this generation, that movie is the briskly witty "What If."
Now the problem with the underlying question is that a romantic comedy isn't the place to ask it. Sure, in the real world, a man and a woman can be friends without the urge to turn it into a romantic or sexual relationship. But a man and a woman who are the main figures in a romantic comedy cannot, because that's neither romantic nor comedy.
That said, the man and woman at the center of "What If" start out in that place. Wallace, played by Daniel Radcliffe, is a med-school dropout still smarting over a bad breakup. At a party, he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan), an animator who is as optimistic about love as he is dubious of it. They hit it off immediately and make plans to hang out just before Chantry reveals that she has a boyfriend, Ben (Rafe Spall), a copyright attorney who's gone a lot because of his work with the United Nations.
Wallace seeks advice from his lothario college roommate, Allan (Adam Driver, from "Girls"), who's in a fast-burning romance with Nicole (Mackenzie Davis, from "That Awkward Moment"), a sexually voracious hottie Allan met at the same party.
One of the movie's running jokes is the fact that Allan and Nicole tear through several stages of their relationship while Wallace and Chantry hem and haw about whether they're just friends or something else. Another is that Wallace and Chantry seem perfect for each other because they're so much shorter than everybody around them.
Canadian director Michael Dowse ("Goon") employs a light touch with Elan Mastai's frothy, predictable script. Dowse finds lots of fun locations in Toronto, a city seemingly overflowing with quaint hipster spots for our characters to converse cleverly.
When "What If" seems likely to fall into formula, the leads use their charm to save the movie. Kazan plays the winsome female lead without getting too cutesy, while Radcliffe pushing into his career's post-Potter second act shows some dark wit that rattles the romantic-comedy expectations.
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan show some sparks that enliven this formulaic romantic comedy.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, Aug. 19.
Rating • PG-13 for sexual content, including references throughout, partial nudity and language.
Running time • 102 minutes.
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