Wallace (Radcliffe) and Chantry (Kazan) meet-cute at a mutual friends party and instantly hit it off. The problem is: she's in a happy relationship, and he doesn't want to be the guy to try and break up a happy relationship...
Having done with all that H. P. sorcery, Daniel Radcliffe appeared to be dipping himself into as many different genres as he could. With Woman In Black, he tackled horror. In Kill Your Darlings, he did a biopic. And with What If (adapted from the play Cigars And Toothpaste then retitled from The F Word), Dan’s gone full rom-com. His upcoming offerings (Horns, Frankenstein) suggest his tastes now tend more towards the dark and supernatural (and with that childhood, who can be surprised?), but What If indicates that he could, if he wanted, also dominate territory once drenched in the heady musk of Hugh Grant.
The pale, polite and self-effacing Wallace is close enough to Radcliffe himself to disperse accusations that the actor’s deliberately impinging on Grant’s old turf — even with all those swear words, somehow so much more effective when served in cut-glass English — and he proves as appealing a presence as Grant did during any of his Richard Curtis gigs.
Still, you can’t escape the fact that, paired as he is with the appealingly big-eyed and elfin Zoe Kazan, whose character, Chantry, works at an animation studio (which can somehow afford huge, swish office-space despite producing only what appear to be kitschy cut-outs) and is luminously perky and quirky despite past traumas, What If places us firmly in the rom-comfort zone. A polite, bumbling, sweary Brit plus a dreamy, pixie-ish girl (okay, Canadian rather than American)? All the film needs is a sprint to an airport and a ker-azy pal to constantly remind the male lead how socially constrained he is and that’s a bingo!
Guess what? Both those things do appear in What If. But, in its defence, the former at least provides a twist on the run-to-airside cliché, and the latter is played by the ever-ace Adam Driver, with the further wrinkle that the ker-azy pal is actually more conventional than the lead in most ways. Screenwriter Elan Mastai’s offbeat trimmings help massively, too (love the Elvis death-snack recipe), and despite the film ending as you’d expect, it impressively manages this without any horrendous narrative cheats or cop-outs.
Formulaic, familiar and predictable, but also likable and well-cast, with enough verve to keep it out of the rom-com bargain bucket.