Movie review: Good chemistry elevates romcom 'What If'

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“What If” proves three things.

Romcoms may be in short supply or on life support, but they are not dead. Actor Daniel Radcliffe long ago demonstrated his range extends beyond the boy who lived as Harry Potter, and modern-day comic romances don’t have to be raunchy or revolve around characters who are annoying or cloying. 

In fact, listening to Wallace (Mr. Radcliffe) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan) banter is like being part of a group of friends who are smart, quick-witted and who try to keep up with or top one another. He is a medical school dropout who introduces himself at a party with a little truth in advertising: He has a dead-end job, lives in his sister’s attic in Toronto and never goes out. 

'What If' movie trailer

Wallace, who is burned out from a string of failed relationships, forms an instant bond with Chantry, who lives with her longtime boyfriend. Together, they puzzle out what it means if your best friend is also the love of your life.

She is an animator, admittedly not very good with small talk but who nevertheless strikes up a conversational chord with Wallace. It’s not until he walks her home and she scribbles her phone number that he hears the deal breaker: A reference to her boyfriend, a live-in boyfriend of five years. 

Wallace, stung by bad breakups, would never try to come between Chantry and her boyfriend, Ben (Rafe Spall).

But fate keeps throwing them together and they become friends (the original title of the movie was “The F Word”) who secretly or quietly weigh whether that’s what they should stay or if they’re robbing themselves of the possibly richest, fullest relationship of their lives. After all, they can talk about anything, from Fool’s Gold sandwiches to the worst thing that ever happened to them.

Their friendship is contrasted with the red-hot coupling of pal Allan (Adam Driver) and his new girlfriend, Nicole (Mackenzie Davis), who are on fire from the start. In a funny scene that plays out as the men walk and talk and debate, Allan spells out Wallace’s options with Chantry, from moving on to expressing his feelings like a man. 

'What If'

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan.

Rating: PG-13 for sexual content including references throughout, partial nudity and language. 

“Since when does being a man involve expressing your feelings?” an incredulous Wallace asks. “You never see Bruce Willis expressing his feelings! The most you ever get out of Bruce is a hint of melancholy at the edge of a smirk.”

And that is what separates “What If,” written by Elan Mastai and based on the play “Toothpaste and Cigars,” from so many other dopey comedies. Even if you guess the destination, the journey is bright and fresh and the leading characters considerate and appealing as they try to figure out what and who they want.

“What If,” directed by Michael Dowse (“Goon,” “Take Me Home Tonight,” “Fubar”) and executive produced by former Pittsburgher Jesse Shapira, is sweet and charming. Mr. Radcliffe is winning as a leading man and Ms. Kazan (“Ruby Sparks”) nicely vulnerable and old-fashioned in what is also a valentine to Toronto.

At 25, Mr. Radcliffe has aged out of the wizarding world but he’s making the transition to adult roles with magical ease. 

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