There’s something undeniably self-satisfied about “What If” (originally titled “The F Word”), a trait which would be alienating enough if it weren’t already an awkward mix of ‘Friendzoned: The Movie’ and the combined efforts of the Toronto and Dublin tourist boards. Revisiting the well-worn trope of ‘can men and women ever just be friends?’, the film wastes little time in answering its own question in the most predictable manner, preferring to revel in its own cleverness and witty dialogue than explore any new ground whatsoever.
When Chantry (Zoe Kazan) encounters Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe), a romantic burn-out still nursing the hurt of a previous break-up at a party, they strike up a friendship which both are adamant is purely platonic, especially as Chantry is living with her dreamy boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall). But it doesn’t take long for Chantry’s cousin (and Wallace’s best friend) Allan (Adam Driver) to spot what neither of them will admit: that their feelings for each other may just be more than friendship.
Admittedly the script is laced with pithy dialogue, eliciting at the very least a few wry smiles if not one or two chuckles and the cast are good value, but the whole package feels (artisanally) manufactured when it needs to feel natural to succeed. Zoe Kazan, so good in “In Your Eyes”, does her best to find the sympathetic core to the selfish and entitled character of Chantry while Radcliffe manages the impressive feat of never once recalling to mind a certain boy wizard while also making Wallace the one truly likeable character in the film.
Desperately hip (frequently crossing the line into hipster), there’s a level of romantic smugness in “What If” that even Richard Curtis would blanche at. It makes no effort whatsoever to check its privileges, creating a world of impossibly pretty people living impossibly idyllic lives who, because they have no real problems to deal with (nobody has any money or health worries, everyone has an important or exotic job), end up absorbed in their own narcissistic ‘crises’. Although it presents itself as a quirky indie production, the level of corporate shilling for the likes of Pepsi and Apple (amongst others) is breath-taking, to say nothing of the pimping of its location cities Toronto and Dublin, leaving a sourly commercial aftertaste.
For some, this may become an iconic romance, and no doubt someone will declare it this generation’s “When Harry Met Sally” but it’s more like the disappointing outcome of a one-night-stand between TV’s “Friends” and “Girls”.