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The F Word

What If: Toronto Review

8:51 PM PDT 9/9/2013 by John DeFore

The Bottom Line

Well-scripted rom-com is a strong post-Potter step for Daniel Radcliffe.

Venue:

Toronto International Film Festival, Special Presentation

Cast:

Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Rafe Spall, Adam Driver, Megan Park

Director:

Michael Dowse

Daniel Radcliffe plays a guy who's secretly in love with bestie Zoe Kazan.

[Editor's note: This review for What If was first published when the film was titled The F Word.]

TORONTO — Its young protagonists may bond over a shared weakness for The Princess Bride, but Michael Dowse's What If has a more modern Rob Reiner-directed fairy tale in mind: When Harry Met Sally ... , in which a man and woman manage to be "just friends" for ages by denying their physical attraction without -- spoiler alert -- irreversibly mucking up their shot at True Love together. Hitting all the rom-com notes with wit and some charm, it'll be a crowd-pleaser in theaters and help moviegoers move on from seeing co-star Daniel Radcliffe only as the world's favorite wizard.

Radcliffe plays Wallace, who for over a year has been recovering in solitude from a bad breakup. Making a rare appearance at a party, he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan), whose flirty banter just about has him believing he could date again. Then, while she's giving him her number and suggesting they hang out soon, she casually mentions her boyfriend.

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Not the kind of fella who'd try to break up a happy relationship, Wallace starts hanging out with Chantry in strictly platonic fashion. He even goes to her place for dinner with her beau, Ben (Rafe Spall) -- a handsome, loving man with a job that, while dull, is a lot more impressive than Wallace's. It's totally an accident when Wallace bumps Ben hard enough to knock him out the window.

Ben lives, though his job soon sends him on a six-month assignment in Dublin. If not making moves on an attractive-but-attached friend is tough, it's exponentially harder when her boyfriend is on another continent; Wallace regularly shares his angst with Allan (Adam Driver), a buddy whose comically outsized libido will be familiar to those who've watched Driver steal scenes on Girls.

Kazan and Radcliffe don't have physical chemistry so much as an innocent, cheerful alignment of personalities; Elan Mastai's script gives them the kind of hard-to-end conversations that continue via phone once an evening's outing is done, making it feel absurd that they're not going home to the same bed. But once the friends-only ground rules are set, toying with them is dangerous: The film has the ring of truth when it envisions a setup, in which friends connive to strand Chantry and Wallace alone together all night, that leads not to romance but the pair's first fight.

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Other difficulties, like the interest Chantry's sister, Dalia (Megan Park), has in using Wallace as a rebound romance, may be less convincing, but they do let the film show that, though she isn't letting herself acknowledge it, Chantry has her own qualms with the status quo. Those frustrations are exacerbated with every postcard Ben sends from a European capital his work sends him to. In the end, it'll take a couple of star-crossed trips to Europe for the film to sort things out.

Production Companies: No Trace Camping
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Rafe Spall, Adam Driver, Megan Park
Director: Michael Dowse
Screenwriter: Elan Mastai
Producers: David Gross, Macdara Kelleher, Andre Rouleau
Executive producers: Jesse Shapira, Jeff Arkuss, Hartley Gorenstein, Michael Dowse, Patrice Theroux, Bryan Gliserman, Mark Costa, Ford Oelman, Marc Stephenson
Director of photography: Rogier Stoffers
Production designer: Ethan Tobman
Music: AC Newman
Costume designer: Lea Carlson
Editor: Yvann Thibaudeau
Sales: Rena Ronson, UTA
No rating, 101 minutes