I often wonder if there are actually moviegoers out there who sit down at their local multiplex for the latest romantic comedy and think, “Maybe this time it will be different. Maybe this time, these star-crossed lovers don’t get together in the end.” Admittedly, there have been outliers, films in which that that was the case — but beyond that, if someone somewhere is sitting down to watch What If with any expectation that the adorable Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan might not make it, I can’t help but applaud their adorable lack of expectation.
For the rest of us, we watch these things as hopeful harbingers for what might transpire in our own scattered lives, or simply to see this month’s variation on a theme that many of us have long committed to memory. In What If, it is the familiar trope of a pair of short young people who bump into each other at a party, have an instant connection, but can’t start making out immediately because Wallace (Radcliffe) is an emotional wreck and Chantry (Zoe Kazan) is in a relationship already. Will he get over himself and profess his feelings? Will she get rid of that well-meaning dullard she’s been with for five years and finally hook up with Mr. Right? Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.
Now that it’s been established that director Michael Dowse and screenwriter Elan Mastai aren’t going to mess with the formula of classic Coke, all that’s left is to keep an eye out for characters or subtle tweaks to the action to get us through to the happy ending.
For instance, the strangely slapstick tone of a number of scenes. At one point, Chantry’s doomed partner Ben (Rafe Spall, swallowing his tongue to maintain an American accent) gets accidentally shoved out a window by Wallace. Later on, one of Ben’s colleagues gets inadvertently sent flying down a set of stairs. Adds a strange tone to the proceedings, but we’ll allow it.
As well, the addition of Adam Driver to the proceedings is the kind of wild card that a film like this really needs. Just as he does in HBO’s Girls, his line readings are never pitched in an expected way. Just check him out in the movie trailer as he adds a gleeful weirdness to the statement: “I just had sex and I’m about to have NACHOS!” Or witness his delight at drunkenly heckling a bocce ball game being played by a group of senior citizens. He’s the perfect blast of energy to keep things moving forward.
And yes, of course, Kazan and Radcliffe have great chemistry and seem to actually be enjoying nattering on about Elvis’s legendarily artery-clogging culinary habits before eventually locking lips 100 minutes later. That should delight a lot of young folks who also dream of one day stumbling upon some British cutie grumpily stitching together verse on a fridge using Magnetic Poetry.