by MIA NGUYEN
dir. Michael Dowse
Daniel Radcliffe plays the lead in Michael Dowse’s What If as a miserable medical school dropout anguished with the pain of a two-year-old break-up. What If explores the disturbing vagaries of being told “let’s just be friends” by someone you love. Despite all of the unfortunate events happening in the life of Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe), he manages to find the most perfect and peaceful perching spot on the roof of the house of his sister Ellie (Jemina Rooper), overlooking the gorgeous Toronto skyline. He utilizes the spot to mope and wallow with his one and only friend, the fluorescent glow illuminating from his iPhone.
After making the unsurprising and predictable discovery of catching his ex-girlfriend having with his anatomy professor in a supply closet of the hospital they both worked in he ended the relationship. The infidelity between the two closely paralleled the lives his parents led: two doctors who cheated on each other constantly with other doctors in the hospital. He didn’t want to follow the same fate of lying, cheating, and manipulation for himself.
In addition to living with his sister Wallace serves as a father figure to his nephew. The two disobey the rules by bingeing on tubs of ice cream with horror movies while she’s away at work. Unfortunately, What If skimps out on the family dynamic in favor of its broader love story; weaving both together might have provided a bit more edge.
What If quickly settles into a romantic comedy groove with the appearance of Allan (Adam Driver) and jacked and brash sense of humor, which audience members rely on to sit through the entirety of the film. His tall stature in relation to Wallace’s is laughable at best, making their friendship heartwarming and engaging. (One was little, one was big, but they were the best of friends.)
Allan tries to fix Wallace’s social displacement and anguish by inviting him to his tumultuous social gathering at a house party where he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan). The two hit it off and complete each other’s sentences in front of a refrigerator filled with magnetic poetry.
After calling it a night, he walks Chantry back to her apartment only to find that she has a boyfriend, but she willingly scratches her phone number on piece paper from her sketchbook and hands it over to him. This act inculcates his madness for her bright red lips, coy personality, and closet full of cute vintage dresses.
Wallace, like any guy who gets friend zoned, goes home absolutely livid. He climbs on top of his perching spot and ponders if he should even keep her number, allowing the wind to drift it away from his hand. His facial expression screams, “What’s the point of even keeping her number if she has a boyfriend. I want someone that can instantly put out. It has been two years!” The piece of paper drifts through the wind with the fairy coming to life on screen as an animation, which closely follows through Chantry’s emotional journey throughout the movie and gives us a better idea of what she does for a living as an animator.
The two rejoice and encounter each other outside of a Princess Bride screening (ugh) and decide to be friends. They go out drinking and rambunctiously dance at nightclubs. Alcohol eases the pain in any situation, even in the friend zone.
The friendship between the two blossoms into a spectacular rose bush and Wallace enjoys talking to Chantry about everything. He falls in love with her, madly in love, but can’t express it. Chantry invites Wallace over for dinner to meet her boyfriend of five years Ben (Rafe Spall). Ben works for the United Nations and suspects Wallace’s sexual pursuits for Chantry with quick mutters and jabs while hastily dicing an onion. Ben resembles someone who you don’t want to be stuck in an elevator with because he will suddenly start a conversation.
In one scene, Allan and Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) invite the friend zone pair on a beach trip. Allan and Nicole pursue a late night skinny dipping excursion, leaving Chantry and Wallace by the fire. Chantry suggests skinny dipping in the dark with Wallace, a dangerous game, but she plays it anyway. In addition, she plays the juvenile I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours-game with Wallace underneath the moonlight and he obliges, of course. It’s purely innocent.
Allan and Nicole’s mischievous scheme of taking their clothes leave the two out cold for the night. Being naked doesn’t even lead to second base and they end up spending the night back-to-back in a sleeping bag furious.
Chantry gets a job offer as a project manager in Tokyo and feels an exorbitant amount of pressure to make a decision. It’s the only source of control she feels she needs to take advantage of. Instinctively and rationally, she sits alone with a pencil and writes a pros and cons list. She allows to be honest with herself and her feelings for Wallace. Her heart can no longer deny that their friendship is more than just a friendship. The calculated risks and steps Chantry takes guide her onto an illuminating path on questioning her career and 5-year long relationship with Ben. She finds happiness in her honesty and becomes unafraid.
Mia Ngyuen is the features editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. You can find her website here.
“Scar Issue” – The Color Morale (mp3)
“Developing Negative” – The Color Morale (mp3)