'What If': Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, romantic possibilities
What If is a romantic comedy about platonic best friends who find themselves wondering - increasingly, but hardly ever at the same time - whether the platonic part is a good idea. Deftly walking a tricky line between the predictable and the toxically cute, the film, set in a photogenic Toronto a-crawl with millennials, stars Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan, and this pairing alone is enough to recommend it.
He's Wallace, a sulky med-school dropout, wounded by love and accustomed, now, to doing things on his own. At night, he retreats to his apartment roof, to scan the twinkly constellations and play back voicemails from his ex. They broke up over a year ago.
Kazan is Chantry, a talented artist at an animation studio, and the live-in girlfriend of a perfectly acceptable nice-guy lawyer (Rafe Spall).
At a party, by a refrigerator covered in word magnets, Wallace and Chantry meet. ("Love is stupid monkeys" is Wallace's contribution to the fridge door's free verse.) They clearly spark to each other (and not because Kazan's last rom-com was called Ruby Sparks), but as they exit and bid adieu, Chantry allows that she has a boyfriend, and Wallace tries not to show his disappointment.
Then the two meet again, stumbling into each other as they step from a theater showing that '80s classic The Princess Bride. A post-Westley/Buttercup confab is in order, so Wallace and Chantry head for a diner, where they realize they have too much in common not to be friends.
And friends they become, of the fastest, closest, secret-sharing sort.
But Wallace can't help, now and then, looking longingly at his pal. Chantry, in those widening gaps when her beau, Ben, is immersed in work, begins to question her fidelity, and her true feelings for Wallace. When Ben takes a career-must job in Dublin, Chantry starts spending even more time with Wallace. And Wallace, having sought counsel from his goofball buddy (a nutty Adam Driver), decides he must declare himself.
Angst, and little whimsical animated sequences, ensue.
Written with considerable snap and charm by Elan Mastai and directed by Michael Dowse, who had the good sense to put his trust in the script and his leads, What If boasts a couple of near-classic comic moments, one involving jalapeno peppers and a precipitous fall.
Mackenzie Davis, as Driver's saucy lover, and Megan Park, as Chantry's sex-on-the-brain sister, both have their fine, funny moments, too.
But it's Radcliffe and Kazan, clinking their takeout coffees (well, there's no clink in cardboard, is there?) and radiating soulful desire and distress, that make What If more than just an iffy affair.
What If *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Michael Dowse. With Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, Megan Park, Rafe Spall. Distributed by CBS Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 42 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (sex, profanity, adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz Bourse and Carmike at the Ritz Center/NJ.