Usually, rom-coms are pretty predictable. Boy meets girl, one of them falls in love, there’s a complication, and either they both fall in love and get together, or one falls out of love and they don’t. And although the ending might usually be a little too obvious, it doesn’t mean that the viewer can’t have a little fun along the way.
In “What If”, Daniel Radcliffe’s newest theatrical release, the viewer definitely does. Radcliffe plays Wallace, a med-school dropout who’s found himself in Toronto, across the ocean from his native England, living in his sister’s attic. Wallace works a dead-end job that’s so boring his good friend, Allen (played by Adam Driver), never remembers what Wallace does for a living, as he says that everytime Wallace tells him, he falls asleep. Allen is exaggerating, of course — as a former college roommate who never really grew out of the college mindset, he’s a good source of comic relief in the film — but Wallace is disheartened in work and disheartened in love, having suffered a nasty breakup before the film begins.
Everything changes when Wallace accompanies Allen to a party and meets Chantry, who also happens to be Allen’s cousin. Chantry (Zoe Kazan) works as an animator, a detail cleverly worked into visual aspects of the film, spicing up the classic rom-com flick a little with a few artistic surprises. She and Wallace hit it off and walk home together — only for Chantry to give Wallace her number outside her house and casually say that her boyfriend will be worried because she’s home so late.
What follows next, as in any romantic comedy, is a series of conversations: Wallace talking to Allen about Chantry, Chantry talking about Wallace to her friends, and most importantly, Wallace and Chantry talking to each other about absolutely everything other than what exactly their relationship is.
Elan Mastai’s script is great — funny, deadpan and warm, setting it apart from the multitudes of other “are-we-friends-or-are-we-more” rom-coms that the public is besieged with every year. Mastai’s rom-com doesn’t pretend life’s punches don’t exist but rather gets most of its laughs from them.
Unfortunately, though, “What If” falls into the pathetically common stereotype of “cute, thin, white, urban indie 20-somethings,” a stereotype that is completely overwrought and, at this point, frankly not very interesting. Everyone is white, thin and attractive. Everyone falls within the 20 to 30 age range and dresses like they pursue creative careers, yet their houses and bodies are decked out in what looks like a rare and individual mix of Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. (Interesting, as there are many 20- to 30-year-olds who work in the arts and would attest to the utter ridiculousness of successfully affording a purely Anthro and Urban aesthetic on a young creative’s salary.) Even Driver appears in the same sort of quasi-jerk, slightly self-obsessed role he played in “GIRLS” and 2012’s “Frances Ha,” and “What If” often feels like it’s just trying to buy into the culture of white, hipster urbanity like “GIRLS” so infamously does.
Everyone who wears glasses wears “nerd glasses,” apparently beloved by the white, urban, attractive indie hipster this film seems to aim to emulate, and five out of the nine female characters have bangs. Five. Out of nine. It’s ridiculous. In this day and age, too, a 100 percent white main cast is ridiculous, especially as “What If” is set in Toronto, where only 50.2 percent of its inhabitants are white.
Unfortunately, the team behind “What If” has let the opportunity for a fantastic film slip by, focusing too much on catering to an overdone cultural aesthetic. As it is, it’s lovely and warm, but it leaves the viewer wondering how great it could have been if the whole film could have echoed the humor and humanity in Mastai’s script.
Contact Tyler Allen at [email protected].