Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
"What If" is a likable comedy that keeps you watching and watching like emotional candy, despite its formula in hitting all the expected recognizable notes.
The iconic Daniel Radcliffe (Kill Your Darlings, Harry Potter) stars as Wallace, a med school drop out, a sad eyed harlequin, an introvert and a jittery mess. Wallace goes to a party given by his snarky roommate Allan (Adam Driver). Lo and behold, he bumps into the strawberry blond and quirky Chantry (Zoe Kazan). In aura, Chantry is similar to the characters of Greta Gerwig. She's as gangly with a bounce as Wallace is nervous and bound up. She is like an unspooling ball of yarn. Better yet, she has a heart shaped face.
Chantry likes the odd, pithy remarks of this guy who looks like a semi ratty but endearing smirk of linen, but she has a hubby: Ben, (Rafe Spall) a bland UN worker.
After a few friendly talks, Chantry invites Wallace to a house party where he encounters the doltish but protective Ben and Chantry's manipulative sister, Dalia (Megan Park).
Mayhem ensues with Ben blinding himself with jalapeño oil from a knife he used as Wallace ultimately pushes him out of a window in the midst of trying to be of assistance.
Ben regains his equilibrium but becomes increasingly remote from the effervescent Chantry and accepts a job in Dublin.
While we have seen such hijinks before from Will Gluck (Friends with Benefits) to Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally), among others, director Michael Dowse gives all events a lively and colorful spin.
The tipsy and and playful electricity---with a warm, tin-foil and almost childlike feeling---goes down with a vivacious carbonation and all things are just loose enough to retain a freshness.
Daniel Radcliffe is excellent as the lost clown full of reticence and gloom and he is fun to watch as he becomes more and more wild under Chantry's bright chant.
Adam Driver can be seen as a kind of Tony Roberts for the millennials: overconfident, narcissistic and opinionated and in the comical body of Zoe Kazan there is a calligraphic swoop of Diane Keaton's Annie Hall.
While there are clear traces of past films here, the light empathy between Radcliffe and Kazan hold it together while also retaining the suspense of romance in our multiple screened age. And though it unabashedly references technology and our often media-immured realm, it is interestingly retro in tone. The spasticity and smiles shared between Wallace and Chantry could very well be Woody Allen's gestural cousins.
In the attraction of Wallace and Chantry there is uneasy tension as much as a harmonic rhythm and the acting, never given heavy hands gives a charge of authenticity.
As a kind of post, postmodern Woody Allen / Rob Reiner interpretation, "What If" works very well. While it may be light and fizzy, it never plays trite or over done. In its very ink and gouache-friendly attitude, (animations are periodically seen throughout) the imagery is slick, vivid and innocent without any irony or jaded cynicism.
"What if" has a vibrant heart and despite its long ancestral history, the surprise is that it will sweep you along its magic marker arc and keep you guessing.
Write Ian at email@example.com