Santa Cruz Good Times

Oct 06th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Banter and Spark

FilmLead danielradcliffeEngaging actors, wry script distinguish lightweight rom-com ‘What If’

In romantic comedy, only one thing matters: the romantic couple. It doesn’t matter how lame the plot is (and lameness is practically a staple of the genre). Conversely, it doesn’t matter how brilliant the writing is (less common in your typical rom-com these days). An audience will forgive just about anything as long as the would-be couple attempting to hook up is engaging enough, and if it becomes a matter of some urgency to us that they get together.

Fortunately, the entertaining What If has a pair of very attractive leads in Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan. And, indeed, there’s less to forgive than usual in the film as a whole, mostly thanks to a sprightly script by Elan Mastai, adapted from the stage play, Toothpaste and Cigars, by T. J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi. It’s a two-character play where dialogue counts for a lot, and conversation in the film is laced with postmodern irony, and often very funny self-deprecating humor. The premise may be tissue-thin, some of the narrative mood swings feel a bit forced, and even the dialogue occasionally fails big time, but the easy charm of the leads keeps us involved.

Directed by Michael Dowse, the story begins with Wallace (Radcliffe) and Chantry (Kazan) meeting cutely at a party. He’s recently dropped out of med school after getting burned by his ex-girlfriend, another student doctor; Chantry finds him arranging the poetry magnets on the fridge door to read “love is stupid.” They banter and seem to spark a little. Wallace contrives to leave the party at the same time as Chantry, and walk her home, which is when she lets it drop in an offhand manner that she lives with her boyfriend.

That’s about it for premise. The smitten Wallace has to decide if he can agree to just be friends. (The original title of the screenplay was The F Word.) Chantry, an animator, has lived with Ben (Rafe Spall), some sort of diplomatic translator, for five years. As she and Wallace become BFFs, texting each other daily, she starts to wonder if their friendship could blossom into something more—and if she even wants it to.

So, not all that much of a hook to hang a movie on. Happily, diversion is provided by Adam Driver as Allan (he’s Chantry’s cousin and Wallace’s bud), whose intense and sudden blitzkrieg romance with Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) offers comic contrast to their friends’ decorous sublimation. Driver and Radcliffe are also funny together in their guy-talk scenes, especially their well-timed give-and-take when Allan lays out Wallace’s options as to be either “sleazy, conniving or pathetic.”

Radcliffe has worked hard in the last few years to distance himself from the boy wizard who saved the world from Voldemort. Audiences have seen him naked onstage as the disturbed teen obsessed with horses in Equus, and onscreen as a young Victorian widower beset by ghosts in The Woman In Black, and as a collegiate Allen Ginsberg crushed on another man in Kill Your Darlings. We rarely see him play a regular bloke with romantic problems as we do here, and he proves to be a refreshingly light and capable comic actor.

Kazan is another likeable personality, as she demonstrated in Ruby Sparks (which she also wrote), with her big, waifish eyes, and adroit delivery of droll lines. And most of the story takes place in Toronto, which is photographed to look clean, sparkling, modern and romantic. But the film loses its footing in a couple of manufactured confrontations where the characters fight for no reason, not because it’s organic to the situation, but because the script requires a change of direction. Also, there’s one too many discussions of fecal matter. Once, even twice, the friends are humorously testing their gross-out boundaries, but three times? Seriously?

Still, director Dowse scores points for factoring in some charming bits of animated fancy (drawings that come to life and fly around the city), in keeping with Chantry's vocation. Which lead to a delightful animated closing credits sequence—part Fractured Fairy Tale, part Monty Python—that leaves viewers feeling more pleased than otherwise at this good-natured comic confection.

WHAT IF *** (out of four)Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis. Written by Elan Mastai. Directed by Michael Dowse. A CBS Films release. Rated PG-13. 98 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Making a Scene

As it celebrates its 30th year, Santa Cruz County’s Open Studios is one of the most successful in the country—and a make-or-break event for many local artists


The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program


At Clothes Range

FashionART’s 10th anniversary show introduces a new generation of designers on the edge


A Ritual & Initiation

The Pope has come and gone, but his loving presence ignited new hope and goodness in many. While he was in NYC, China’s ruler arrived in Washington D.C. East (China) and West (Rome), meeting in the middle, under Libra, balancing sign of Right Relations. The Pope arrived at Fall Equinox. Things initiated at Fall Equinox are birthed at Winter Solstice. The Pope’s presence was a ritual, an initiation rite—like the Dalai Lama’s visits—offering prayers, teachings and blessings. Rituals anchor God’s plan into the world, initiating us to new realities, new rules. The Pope’s presence brings forth the Soul of the United States, its light piercing the veils of materialism. The Pope’s visit changed things. New questions arise, new reasons for living. A new wave of emerging life fills the air. Like a cocoon shifting, wings becoming visible. The winds are different now. Calling us to higher vision, moral values, virtues that reaffirm and offer hope for humanity. A changing of the guard has occurred. Appropriately, this is the week of the Jewish Festival of Sukkoth (’til Oct. 4), when we build temporary homes (little huts in nature), entering into a harvest of prayer and thanksgiving, understanding our fragile and impermanent existences. We are summoned to reflect upon our lives, our humanity, our nature, our spirit and each other. Offering gratitude, becoming a magnet for others. We observe. We see the needs. We love more.
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments


What’s your biggest pet peeve?

When people say they’re “going down” somewhere, and they’re actually traveling north. Julia Ragen, Santa Cruz, Psychologist


Downhill Cellars

An easy-drinking Chardonnay from Downhill Cellars


If whales have a message for humans, what might it be?

“Do not come in the water and join us.” Howard Hall, Santa Cruz, Retired


Wargin Wines

The wine world is buzzing about this Pinot Gris