One of the problems with romantic comedies that ask questions like “Can men and women just be friends?” or “Can friends have sex without it becoming romantic?” is that, no matter how subversive things might get along the way, the answer is almost always “No.” Movies like Friends With Benefits, When Harry Met Sally and No Strings Attached have tried to break the mold, but ultimately Hollywood romantic comedies always end up gravitating towards a happy ending where the couple falls into each other’s arms.
It would be nice to think that What If – a new romantic comedy starring Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) – will have the guts to break this pattern. Based on the new trailer, however, it seems likely to follow a more traditional formula. Radcliffe plays Wallace, a medical school dropout who meets the girl of his dreams, an animator called Chantry (Kazan). There’s just one problem: she already has a boyfriend.
What If premiered at Sundance last year, though at the time it was called The F Word. The “F” stands for “friendship,” but nonetheless the MPAA considered the original title to be too rude for U.S. audiences and therefore it was unfortunately rechristened with a much more boring name. Variety reviewed the film following the premiere and described it as being, “Roughly three parts charming to one part cloying,” adding that the screenplay by Elan Mastai comes across as an “unabashed tribute” to When Harry Met Sally.
The strongest elements of this trailer derive from the chemistry between Kazan and Radcliffe, the latter of whom has been experimenting with different genres since graduating from Hogwarts – and seems to be best suited to playing charming characters and delivering witty, yet natural banter. The story itself comes across as painfully generic (Chantry’s boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall) is, of course, a jerk) and it looks like What If might actually contain the two ultimate romantic comedy clichés: a race to the airport and a dramatic public declaration of love. That could just be a trick of the trailer’s editing, though.
What If also stars Adam Driver (who is currently filming Star Wars: Episode VII) as Wallace’s friend and Chantry’s cousin, Allan, who has already managed to settle down. The movie was directed by Michael Dowse (The Goon) and is based on a play called Toothpaste and Cigarettes, by T.J. Dawe. The plot doesn’t sound like it will stray much from formula and it now has quite possibly one of the worst movie titles of all time, but What If will undoubtedly find an audience amongst moviegoers who just can’t get enough of gooey romance.
What If is out in theaters on August 1st, 2014.