Daniel Radcliffe, heartthrob to a generation of young Harry Potter fans, is an obvious choice for a romantic-comedy lead. The trick is to make a movie that can stand to the distraction of seeing “Harry Potter” on screen without his glasses and scar.
PG-13 for sexual content, including references throughout, partial nudity and language
Radcliffe plays Wallace, the child of two doctors who don’t have an ideal relationship. Wallace is following in their footsteps, pursuing a degree in medicine and breaking up with his girlfriend. He lives in Toronto, but still has his English accent. We meet him at a party, where he is on the rebound.
Zoe Kazan plays Chantry, the other half of this romantic comedy. Kazan and Radcliffe are well paired. They have a charming, funny, down-to-earth chemistry, and neither steals the show. Chantry has a pretty face and a slightly open look that belies a sharp wit underneath. Wallace strikes up a conversation with Chantry at the party, and it’s clear they are on the same wavelength. But of course it’s not that simple; Chantry already has a boyfriend.
The script by Elan Mastai (based on a play by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi) crackles with witty banter. In fact, Chantry’s friend Dalia (Megan Park) comments on Wallace, saying he’s not so much funny as banter-y. The storyline is conventional: establish the relationship, then introduce obstacles and misunderstandings to keep the couple apart until the end.
So because Chantry already has a serious boyfriend, Wallace is “just” a friend (the film’s original title was “The F Word”). And Wallace, fresh from a painful breakup, is not in any mood to be playing the dating game. He makes an ironic comment: that love is too often an excuse for people to do bad things. He’s referring to his parents, but he could as easily have been referring to another new Radcliffe movie called Horns, in which Radcliffe’s character does some very bad things in the name of love.
The setup is a little contrived, but what romantic comedy’s setup isn’t? What If sells the idea for long enough to push the couple together. After that, complications come from mutual friends Dalia and her boyfriend Allan (Adam Driver), from Chantry’s work and Wallace’s school, and at the very end, from the occasionally too-visible hand of the screenwriter.
In-between scenes, director Michael Dowse ( Goon, It’s All Gone Pete Tong) includes neat animated interludes that comment on the action. Rather than just appearing on-screen, they are projected on the city’s buildings at night, and justified by the fact that Chantry is a new-media animator. The film’s pop soundtrack is supplied by A.C. Newman.
What If doesn’t break any new ground, but It’s sparkling and refreshing. It has appealing stars, good energy, and a kind heart.
And I didn’t once worry about Voldemort.