There are only so many ways you can tell the story of ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl’. Even though it’s the basis for a subplot in almost every movie, it’s rare you see anything fresh in a romance story. In What If, we’re presented with versions of romantic comedy characters we’ve seen in the past.
Daniel Radcliffe is a sensitive and broken young man, still recovering from his last relationship. His best mate is a Vince Vaughn-type who’s there to lighten the mood and allow Radcliffe to articulate his thoughts out loud. He meets a beautiful, creative woman at a party (Zoe Kazan) with whom he strikes up an immediate rapport, of course. The only problem is that she’s in a committed relationship with her live-in boyfriend (Rafe Spall). And because we’re dealing in stock rom-com archetypes here, the boyfriend must be a bit of a dick.
But despite the fact that that there’s little originality in this movie, it still has a lot of charm. ‘What If’ is the kind of rom-com that they don’t really make anymore: it does try to say something about romantic relationships, albeit something that When Harry Met Sally said perfectly over 20 years ago.
It’s also peculiar to finally see a movie set in Toronto. While an unbelievable amount of movies and television gets made there, it’s usually doubling for New York or some other metropolis with less generous tax incentives. But given an opportunity to show off it’s more distinctive corners, the Canadian city turns out to be a picturesque backdrop that’s the perfect setting for a romance.
Zoe Kazan is a wonderful screen presence, and it’s not hard to see why Radcliffe’s character can’t bear being just friends with her. And although his role is underwritten, Girls star Adam Driver does a lot with his sidekick role, making an exposition role sufficiently quirky.
The main problem with this movie is actually its star attraction: Daniel Radcliffe.
Since wrapping up Harry Potter, Radcliffe has only made good choices. He’s appeared on Broadway both in a play and a musical; he starred in a Hammer-pedigree ghost story with The Woman in Black; and now he’s making an off-beat independent Canadian film. These are all smart projects for an actor with an eye on prolonging his career but his lack of formal training always manages to shine through. He garbles his densely-written dialogue and his reactions lack subtlety in a big way. We just can’t see beyond Radcliffe’s ‘acting’, something that’s pretty deadly for the leading man of any film.
But despite our reservations, What If is the kind of earnest romantic comedy we rarely get to see these days. It doesn’t break the mould in anyway, but it’s also refreshingly short on the irony that defines most modern comedies. It’s a solid date night film.
‘What If’ is in cinemas Wednesday 20 August