Wallace lives in his sister’s attic. He used to be in medical school, but he dropped out because his girlfriend – also in med school – cheated on him. To Wallace, love is dead.
This is how we meet Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) in the romantic comedy What If. Realer-than-most for its genre, What If is about losing faith in love, and then finding it again at the most inopportune time (or rather in the most inopportune person).
After more than a year of wallowing in his ex’s betrayal, Radcliffe finally attends a party at his best friend Allan’s (Girls’ Adam Driver). It is here, while assembling the magnetic words on the fridge, that he meets his pursuit Chantry (Zoe Kazan) – Driver’s animator cousin.
Just when he thinks there may be hope for him yet, Kazan delivers another blow to his heart as she delivers her phone number – she has a boyfriend, but would love to still hang out as friends. Naturally, as most guys would do in the situation, he “loses” her number.
After their mutual patheticness (fate) brings them back together, Radcliffe decides that, for now, maybe another friend couldn’t hurt.
As any rom-com devotee can surely guess, they become inseparable as Radcliffe’s feelings grow ever stronger, and Kazan’s relationship with her boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall) is tested by work and life in general.
Driver is there the entire time, guiding Radcliffe, in his rather precarious position as Kazan’s cousin/Radcliffe’s best friend, and providing the perfect counter to Radcliffe’s brooding, contemplative broken heart. Driver’s off-color antics, and impetuous relationship with his new girlfriend Nicole (Mackenzie Davis), lighten an otherwise hopeless situation and offer perspective on love and loss.
What sets What If apart from other films in the genre is the writing (Elan Mastai) and fantastic dialogue and repartee between Radcliffe and Driver, and, to a lesser extent, Radcliffe and Kazan. Yes, there is the obligatory profound analogies of love, but also much more convincing, trivial banter on food, relationship “attack” options, and disgusting bodily functions that give the characters their depth and charm.
Canadian director Michael Dowse does well to capture the underutilized beauty and variety of Toronto and the one-on-one character interactions, but the attempts to blend animation as a subtext to the action on screen mostly missed the mark for me.
A whirlwind of (at times inappropriate) cute and fun, I recommend any rom-com fan give What If a try. “It’s very easy to be cynical about love, until you’ve had that instant connection. If you’re lucky, it happens once in a lifetime.”