BWW Reviews: Radcliffe, Kazan Avoid Rom-Com Cliches in WHAT IF, Open Today
Despite the fact that it is led by two adorably dorky characters, features Sorkin-level intelligent banter, and consciously avoids all of the genre's clichés, "What If;" the new movie starring Broadway regulars Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan; is a tried-and-true Romantic-Comedy at heart. Opening in select cities today, before expanding nationwide next week, "What If" hits many of the familiar Rom-Com beats, without ever feeling like we've been there before.
Radcliffe's Wallace is an unlucky in love Med School dropout who has all but given up on love after a particularly nasty break-up, until he bonds with Kazan's Chantry, an animator, over magnetic poetry at a party. While the chemistry between the two threatens to light the screen on fire, there is one major obstacle to the couple's eventual happiness, Chantry lives with her boyfriend of five years, Ben (Rafe Spall).
In a traditional Romantic-Comedy, this relationship would be filled with so many gender-specific tropes that you could practically predict what was going to happen without even seeing the movie; Ben would be an over-bearing, misogynistic jerk, and Chantry would be too afraid to leave him, because she doesn't know who she is without him. However, in "What If," the couple is happy and healthy. So, despite Wallace and Chantry's obvious attraction, the two set out on what becomes a truly realistic and beautiful friendship.
If the set up sounds a bit like, "When Harry Met Sally," that's ok. Director Michael Dowse has said that he set out to make a movie that fits in with the Romantic-Comedy cannon (although he has avoided that term), but maneuvers around, and plays with, the expectations of an audience that has seen this type of story before.
For this movie not to come off as trite, the performances from Radcliffe and Kazan; the grand-daughter of three-Time Tony and Oscar-winning director Elia Kazan; must be extremely strong, and they are. Both bring an equal level of vulnerability and awkwardness to a situation that at times feels like a balancing act on a tight-rope. The pair's friendship is obviously important to both of them, but there is an undeniably growing tension that is always threatening to topple the whole thing.
Radcliffe is charming as he navigates the complicated relationship, turning on the puppy-dog pout only sparingly. In his first big screen comedic role, the erstwhile boy wizard is continuing to prove that he is a multi-talented adult actor, capable of many different challenges. Kazan is a revelation of screen; though a regular presence on the New York stage for nearly a decade, including MTC's "When We Were Young and Unafraid," which closes this weekend, this marks her largest movie role to date. While Radcliffe is the draw for "What If," for me, Kazan is the star. It is her conflicted feelings that provide the most emotional punch, and with her humor and understated beauty, it is easy to see why two men would fall in love with her.
The supporting cast is also quite a bit of fun, if not a bit under-used. New York theatre regular and "Girls" co-star Adam Driver is Allan, Chantry's cousin and Wallace's incredibly immature best friend. At nearly the same time Chantry and Wallace do, Allan meets Nicole (Mackenzie Davis), and the instantly begin their own volatile love-affair, reminiscent of Vince Vaughn and Isla Fisher in "Wedding Crashers." While Radcliffe and Kazan are the movie's more realistic couple, Driver and Davis provide some of the more traditional Rom-Com hijinks.
Though Spall's Ben and Chantry's sister, played by Megan Park, provide detours along the way, there is very little doubt that in true Rom-Com fashion, one of the main pair is going to eventually declare their love in a grand way. The question is just how much do Dowse and screenwriter Elan Mastai, who adapted Michael Rinaldi's play "Toothpaste and Cigars," want to buck the conventions of the genre.
I wish they would have been a little more adventurous in the resolution, without completely upsetting the applecart, because, in the end, "What If" spends most of its 97 minutes trying to convince you that it isn't a traditional Romantic-Comedy, only to prove that it is a traditional Romantic-Comedy in the end.
Check out the trailer below:
"What If," starring Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, and Megan Park is rated PG-13 (for sexual content including references throughout, partial nudity and language). The movie opens in select cities today, and nationwide on August 15th.
If you went along for the ride with Wallace and Chantry, let me know what you think in the comments below, or on Twitter @BWWMatt.
1) Radcliffe and Kazan | Caitlin Cronenberg
2) Radcliffe and Kazan | Caitlin Cronenberg