The romantic comedy recipe is so well-known and foolproof that the great mystery about them is how rarely the romantic fools in Hollywood get it right.
“What If” does. It’s a healthy serving of great obstacles to romance, generous helpings of cute, alluring leads, a dash of funny-sexy best friends, an enticing location filmed at its best and topped with bright, witty (but not precious) banter. It and its adorable stars — Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan — have us rooting for them from first frame to last.
Wallace and Chantry meet cute — at a party. He’s creating faintly forlorn poems out of fridge-magnets; she reshapes them into more hopeful odes to love.
He’s 379 days past his last, brokenhearted breakup. And her? She’s beguiling, an animator with big eyes, easy to talk to. They chat about the sandwich that killed Elvis — “Fool’s Gold” — and how much of that confection was found in The King’s colon.
“We should hang out,” she says as he walks her home. Great! Then, as she’s fishing for her keys, “My boyfriend will be worried about me.”
There’s the rub. She’s in a five-year live-in relationship with a handsome, successful copyright attorney, Ben (Rafe Spall). Wallace is perplexed. Naturally, he turns to his hipster-Lothario best friend, Allan (Adam Driver, sort of “Justin Long: The Next Generation.”).
“What If” — a limp title for a movie based on the Canadian play “Toothpaste & Cigars” — is about Wallace’s longing, Chantry’s winsome doubts and the other people’s efforts to interfere with what might be happening as they attempt to “just be friends.”
Everybody in this is amusing, but not stand-up comic amusing. The cleverness feels unrehearsed and spontaneous. The first time Wallace meets Ben, he’s come over to dinner at their apartment and Ben stops chopping vegetables to wave his knife at Wallace and ask, “Are you trying to sleep with my girlfriend?”
But the recipe, fools slowly rushing in while joking about Fool’s Gold, works. It’s every bit as irresistible as that potentially lethal combo of bacon, butter, jam and peanut butter ever was.
— Roger Moore, MCT Information Services
PG-13 1:42 3 stars
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis. (Sexual content, including references throughout, partial nudity and language)