sun 14/07/2024

What If | reviews, news & interviews

What If

What If

Pallid Daniel Radcliffe rom-com suggests the limits of self-effacement

'I'll have what she's having' - or maybe not: Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in 'What If'

For an actor whose post-Potter CV has been so wide-ranging - an Irish cripple on stage one minute, a young widowed lawyer in a period horror film or the poet Allen Ginsberg the next - Daniel Radcliffe has developed a highly distinct acting style: self-effacing, somewhat shy, his head often downturned as if to deflect attention away from someone who, after all, was catapulted into stardom before he had even reached puberty.

And then there's the stubble, itself an apt visual reminder that the onetime boy wizard is now a man.

Such modesty has its charms, to be sure, but also its limitations, as Radcliffe's wan new romcom, What If, makes abundantly clear. Nor is Radcliffe in stubbly if terminally aw-shucks mode helped on this occasion by a leading lady in New York theatre regular Zoe Kazan (pictured below right with Radcliffe) who seems here as though she is being positioned as a would-be Jennifer Lawrence - to which, by way of paraphrasing this movie's title, one can only respond, As If! 

Radcliffe and Kazan in What IfThe fact is, much of director Michael Dowse's film recalls other, better examples from the same genre, not to mention the defining talents that made those movies click (When Harry Met Sally... remains the most enduring prototype). And when Elan Mastai's script does wander off in its own direction, you may wish it hadn't: jokes at the expense of homeless people really aren't very cool. Nor, when we first meet him, is medical school dropout, Wallace, who is played by Radcliffe as the sort of amiably clenched-teeth partygoer who likes to correct others on their pronunciation of words like "forte" (an early moment that, as scripted, comes off as not just misguided but actually incorrect).  

Wandering home from the evening, presumably to play Scrabble online, he drifts into conversation with the rather egregiously named Chantry (Kazan, her metallic voice less evident on screen than on stage), with whom Wallace strikes up a genuine if initially hesitant rapport. The only problem is that Chantry has a handsome, careerist boyfriend, Ben (Rafe Spall, sporting an ace American accent), who makes clear to Wallace early on that he better keep his mitts off his girl. So it's not exactly a turn for the better when Wallace accidentally (or is it?) sends Ben flying out the window - to cite just one of multiple plot developments that don't for a moment ring true.

Adam Driver and Daniel Radcliffe You can guess what follows as the narrative devotes itself to getting rid of Ben - the fact that he gets relocated to Dublin for work is a plus - so as to allow our variously wary and coy central couple to go in for the clinch. Complicating matters is Chantry's avidly sexual sister, Dalia (Megan Park), whose more blatant advances on Wallace threaten to abort his burgeoning relationship with Chantry, in which case thank heavens for Wallace's comparably horndog chum, Allan (Adam Driver, of Girls renown and pictured with Radcliffe above left), who masterminds a plan with girlfriend Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) to abscond one adventuresome night at the beach with the incipient lovers' clothes. And at least Radcliffe - naked once more - isn't confronted this time around with the psychosexual demons that stared him down in Equus, even if he is here allowed to make remarks about "put(ting) my junk inside your trunk" that weren't part of the landscape of Peter Shaffer's play.   

What if was originally called The F Word when it premiered last autumn at the Toronto International Film Festival, the city where the movie is set, and one can understand the name change given the fundamentally chaste affect generated by Radcliffe and Kazan even at their most engaged. (Allan at one point teasingly references Wallace's "old, wrinkled, dickless" future.) At the same time, watching Driver and Davis scoop up every scene in which they appear separately or together, their collective libido as rampant as the central couple's is reined-in, one yearns to see The F Word caper of which those two supporting players are clearly capable. Or maybe this movie's greatest problem is that it puts the wrong pairing centre-screen. 

Overleaf: watch the trailer for What If

At least Daniel Radcliffe naked once more isn't here confronted by the psychosexual demons that stared him down in Equus


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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