August 7, 2014

Review: 'What If' – Radcliffe and Kazan Avoid 'The F Word'

"I just had sex. I'm about to eat nachos. It's the greatest moment of my life!"
Daniel Radcliffe Zoe Kazan The F Word What If

Set in Toronto, this Canadian romantic comedy starring the very British Daniel Radcliffe and American Zoe Kazan aims to deconstruct the tropes of the genre while ultimately adhering its conventions, doing so quite entertainingly while adding modern conveyances. The F Word (titled What If in the US and UK) plays with the familiar story of navigating possible romance between friends, riffing on the When Harry Met Sally story. Director Michael Dowse (Fubar, Goon) plays up the sweetness and charm of Vancouver screenwriter Elan Mastai's script at every turn.

Based on T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi's play, Cigars and Toothpaste, The F Word's premise alone would be interminable if it weren't so winning and genuine in delivery. Radcliffe and Kazan are surrounded by supporting actors who add to the drama and comedy without being genre archetypes. Adam Driver (a perennial scene stealer), Mackenzie Davis, Megan Park, and Rafe Spall all play the roles of best friends, sister, and not so evil boyfriend admirably without being distracting or purely there as joke delivery or expository conversation machines.

Kazan avoids being the stereotypical flirty girl with a boyfriend just as Radcliffe dances around the the sad sack guy pining for his best friend while being self-aware enough to exploit the situation for comedic effect. The film toys enough with our expectations of the romance as we empathize with them as both a potential couple and individuals with relationship baggage.

What ultimately grounds the film and makes the central premise and romance, not so much believable, but worth caring about is the undeniable chemistry between the two leads as friends with just enough sexual tension to make the entire film interesting. Both characters face their own selfish behaviours while addressing all the problematic and troublesome qualities of their relationship. All this let's you forget how conventional and somewhat derivative the film becomes in the final act as it sneakily becomes the kind of romance it's precisely mocking.

The F Word succeeds because it never forgets to be both funny and romantic as it navigates the waters of friendship and romance. Jokes are frequent and mostly on point with charming performances and sharp delivery by the actors. Dowse uses the camera to capture intimate moments of emotion and humour as Mastai's words reveal the nature and feeling of the characters deftly. By toying with the idea of becoming an unconventional rom com, the film knowingly relishes in adhering to its genre tropes, celebrating the notion of conventional romance with amusing authenticity.

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