reaping the cost of solitude

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What If / The F Word (Review)

What If - I've watched this several times now and I still can't see the connection between the title and the story. I heard it was previously named "The F Word", which I think made more sense, but it was later changed probably for marketing reasons - not that there's still any taboo in the obvious nod to the infamous cuss word used as euphemism for "friends". Which is ironic because if anything, this movie is devoid of sex, except maybe for some hard smooching from its side characters.

This is the first movie I've ever watched of Zoe Kazan (haven't watched any of her past films at that point) and of Daniel Radcliffe post-Harry Potter. Daniel did a pretty good job as the romantically jaded Wallace, a guy who's still reeling from a messy break-up a year earlier, spending most of his time grieving alone on the rooftop of his sister's house listening to past voice calls from his ex. For the first few minutes of the movie, I could still see Daniel as Harry Potter in a different movie, but the illusion quickly vanished as it went on, especially when he meets and begins his friendly banter with Chantry (played by the wonderful Zoe Kazan).

I'm actually surprised to find out that Daniel has comedic chops, not so much for his rapid-fire delivery of the witty script, but more so his comic timing at certain scenes- like the one where he's irked at being called an "asshole" by Chantry whilst completely naked and shivering at the beach in a cold night, or in the climactic moment where he was rejected by an angry Chantry after confessing his feelings for her, claiming "it's not like you caught me bathing in orphan blood or masturbating in your kitchen!". Those really had me in stitches.

While this movie has its laughs, it's actually quite pragmatic and grounded. There is no villainous boyfriend out to spoil our hero's advances. The conflict mostly arises within Chantry, the other protagonist in this movie. In all honesty, a case can be made that this movie revolves around and is actually about her - how she deals with this budding new relationship with Wallace, and how she balances this new relationship alongside her long-term relationship with her boyfriend, Ben, all while having a strong sense of morality while trying to be socially happy. That said, Zoe Kazan is a delight in this role.

Like Wallace, Chantry is sort of a loner, but while Wallace is quite transparent to the audience, Chantry is not. She's complicated and layered, even secretive. While Wallace has his best friend (Alan) to share his misery and anguish for being friend-zoned, Chantry has no one, not even her sister (who's busy with her own agenda with Wallace). Chantry is seemingly imprisoned by her relationship with Ben. She is left alone to her thoughts - and the film expresses her loneliness through symbolism, aptly intertwined with her profession as an animator. We see a flying winged caricature of herself throughout the film, always a direct reflection of her feelings and state of mind.

In all situations she takes the moral high ground, always remembering that she has a boyfriend and she and Wallace are just friends. This all comes crumbling down on that night on the beach. In her mind, she thought she could get away with a 'friendly' naked night swim with Wallace if she played her cards right. This immediately backfired when their friends caught on, stole their clothes, left them with nothing but a sleeping bag for the night, exposing the fact that she and Wallace are being egged on as a potential couple, and exposing her - despite the careful steps she took with Wallace - that they knew she could no longer deny her feelings for him. She was angry at the situation, at their friends, at Wallace - calling him an asshole as previously noted - but she was angrier at herself. She had clearly crossed the line and her own boundaries as a girl in an existing relationship. This scene was brilliant and also exposes the difference between the mindsets of the two leads. Wallace remained playful, but failed to empathize with Chantry at that moment. Conflict ensues. She goes home devastated, with a look on her face only Zoe Kazan could pull off, and flies to Dublin to be with Ben.

It's a delight to dissect Chantry. And yes, I could see other actors taking on the role. After all, this film is at its core a light-hearted rom-com, but I doubt they'd be as affective as Zoe Kazan. I've since watched more of her movies (most notably Ruby Sparks) and I think she's an incredible actress. This film also proved to me that Daniel Radcliffe could play other characters besides Potter. What once was an uneasy feeling when I see him in a leading role that isn't a Harry Potter movie now feels natural. And it helps that he's adventurous enough to take on more challenging and diverse roles (most recently Swiss Army Man). All in all, this film is enjoyable as a light-hearted comedy, but goes deep if you want it to.