I already know I am nine years late to this, but as a graduating senior who has been bogged down by case studies and theory papers, I could not see a new release this week. Alas, I loaded up Amazon Prime video, and came across a hidden gem — 2013’s “What If.”
Directed by Michael Dowse and adapted to the screen by Elan Mastai from the play “Toothpaste and Cigarettes” by Michael Rinaldi and T. J. Daw, “What If” tells the story of a med-school dropout — played by Daniel Radcliffe — who navigates his feelings for his closest friend — played by Zoe Kazan — as the two go about their lives in Toronto.
From the very start, “What If” comes across as yet another formulaic rom-com where a man likes a woman but fails to bring himself to say anything about it until the very end where they live happily ever after. Now, to avoid any sort of spoilers, I will only say that this film is no cliché.
Sure enough, we are given the foundational core of the “will they, won’t they” plot device. Two people who are seemingly perfect for one another attempt to go about their lives while also suffering to bear witness to any sort of progress in their respected love interest’s lives. Such a feeling is incredibly realistic and aims to the film’s intrinsically humane aspect of loving someone but also feeling so overwhelmed it is impossible to act.
The performances alone, that of Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan who are remarkable in both chemistry and presence, are complemented equally as well by their two friends, played by Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis. Trickled in between all of that is a supporting role driven home by Rafe Spall, but none should be taken for granted the power alone that comes from the cast’s ability to provide comedic and emotional relief from the simplest of actions.
Driver’s scream of eating nachos after having sex makes the meme ever so prominent.
Surely enough, it should be noted that a film with the title of “What If” will pertain to some sort of question of possibility when it comes to any type of atypical romance. And that remains true to its core, for no romance remains or even begins as “atypical” given the fact the people in the film, for the most part, are incredibly versatile and dynamic. They are diverse and speak what’s on their minds and don’t have answers to every little question. They answer things with actual care and courage, thought and balance and not just spewing out —for lack of a better word — asinine content to help please a large mass of viewers.
Perhaps this is why I really resonated with the film, having understood that this romantic comedy made it very clear that it wasn’t going to be like the typical ones that are mass produced every year. It’s sharp, it’s clever, it’s actually funny, which is incredibly hard to come by with new films nowadays, much thanks to Kazan, Driver and Radcliffe in his career-best performance — minus “Swiss Army Man.”
The overall psychology of the film is its driving force, which emphasizes the problems, both good and bad, and the many other things that come from relationships. A warm look at the troubles and highs of meeting new people and finding the strength to tell your greatest friends the truth is more reason to feel some type of way.
Overall, a film that is deserving of viewing, “What If” stands tall above most modern rom-coms.