Packaged as an insignificant addition to the When Harry Met Sally romcom blueprint, What If pleasantly surprises with its insights into the longitude of relationships and the nature of their built-in potential. Our intrinsic relationship with the film is never anything more than an enjoyable yet unmemorable 90 minute fling and while it’s not going to replace the Nora Ephron/Rob Reiner classic as mandatory annual viewing, this is still a warmly welcomed contemporary counterpart that updates certain aspects and lands with a lot of laughs.
A formulaic exterior soon gives way to movements and observations more complex than other derivative films of its kind. It’s not until the final act when familiar clichés and tropes become noticeable, but when it does skirt along that territory it does so with a sincere execution that leads you to accepting them. The one giant false note in the film occurs when Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) sporadically decides to follow his quote-unquote good friend Chantry (Zoe Kazan) to Dublin after she flies to see her partner. Their subsequent argument surrounding Wallace’s reasoning for his impulsiveness highlights the acute awareness within the script but it surrounds a subject matter that lacked any verisimilitude. The film features other moments of unbelievability – one screwball instance of falling out an apartment window and other of falling flat back down the stairs – but these comedic instances are not directly linked to the narrative so can be overlooked. This, however, acts as a pivotal moment of lasting importance and a character motivation that influences our perception of Wallace.
What works for What If is that Radcliffe and Kazan are both vulnerable enough to sympathise with and have an undeniable dynamic spark that makes for always enjoyable viewing. It’s also simply a very funny film that allows its stars to say amusing things which for the most part sound believable coming from their mouths within that world, particularly the ever-entertaining Adam Driver. In more of the John Hughes mould but with some nice Woody Allen characteristics (and not just Chantry’s Annie Hall-esque dressed coworker), the secondary stories are all developed well and suitably link into the primary action. It doesn’t necessarily contradict any of its commentary as it heads towards the inevitable ending but merely provides what we’ve all been expecting and, most likely, wanting to happen. The payoff is satisfying and sweet even if the credits do plummet into the gooiest of animated cheese.