In the grand scheme of ways one can use to torture oneself, having romantic feelings for a friend (we’re talking about a friend you see ALL THE TIME, not some random hi-five-in-a-bar kind of buddy) and doing nothing about it at the detriment of your mental and emotional well-being, tends to rank pretty high up there. Reasons (excuses? excuses!) for not doing anything can be and often are myriad: they are maybe involved with someone, you are maybe afraid to ruin the friendship, you are maybe bad at asking for things you want, you are maybe really into suffering (pick/choose/combine the above).But in the end, they all kind of lead to the fundamental issue of you being a “good person” who just happens to be (unwittingly? subconsciously? whatever!) into driving yourself insane fairly often (because, remember, we are talking about a friend you see ALL THE TIME here).
What If, a new romantic torture comedy which I SORT OF liked against my own best judgement, features two such good persons (read: dyed-in-the-wool emotional masochists) who meet super cute at a party (a game of fridge magnet poetry anyone?), get to awkwardly but adorably know each other at that same party, and then, as he asks to hang out again – she informs him she has a boyfriend, but that she is in the market for some friends because somehow it is pretty hard for girls with boyfriends to make male friends (she quips, “You’d think it would be EASIER”). He, not wanting to risk not seeing her again, agrees.
From then on-they forge a sweet, banter-y, insta-friends relationship which serves to show that they are meant to be spending ALL their time together and everyone around them approaches varying stages of frustration that NOTHING is happening between them, and the two are just really working very hard not to ruin what they have.
At this point I should note that these two good persons (read: dyed-in-the-wool emotional masochists) are played by Daniel Radcliffe (an ex boy wizard) and Zoe Kazan (whose eyelashes and tiny nose and adorable bangs have spread their twee magic across everything from The Exploding Girl to Ruby Sparks in which, lest we forget, SHE PLAYED A DATING FANTASY). Plus, there are cute little animations throughout, endearing dressing room fumbles, innuendo-filled camping trips, adorable strolls in the rain, and all sorts of other manic pixie twee xxxtreme stuff happening throughout that make all that is going on on the screen start seeming A TINY bit like emotional torture for the viewer as well. If these people who have so clearly been genetically built for romantic love with their wide eyes, and fluttering everything can’t seem to be able to see romance staring squarely at their faces, then what kind of chance do the rest of us have?
Of course, the game afoot is not equal. It never is. Radcliffe’s Wallace KNOWS he likes Kazan’s Chantry, but is afraid that being sexually forward will alienate her in case she doesn’t want exactly the same thing as him. Chantry, on the other hand, is a lifelong “make it work” kind of relationship gal (there is a memorable moment when she discloses that “no one ever broke up with anyone” in any of her previous dating lives) and is in pure, unadultured denial of what is happening to her.
Now, ask anyone, I am a big champion of both romantic comedies and platonic friendship. I do think they can be honest and true and without any side agendas whatsoever (just like really any other movie genre OR relationship), but around the one hour mark I sort of wanted to scream. At some point, this friendship ceases to be true because all anyone is thinking about are these feelings they’re not acting upon, and as such, they can’t ACTUALLY deal with each other the way honest-to-God platonic friends would. So to say that there is nothing happening FOR FEAR of things changing or loss of friendship is bullshit. THINGS HAVE ALREADY CHANGED! The fact that you’re not talking to (presumably) one of your best friends about what is occupying your brain and heart for most of the day is only changing and ruining it more. GET WITH IT.
Having said that, it is not that I didn’t enjoy myself: as all this is going on, plenty of amusing stuff is also filling up screen time. In the great tradition of not-quite-great rom coms (see No Strings Attached and Take Me Home Tonight, the previous effort of What If‘s director Michael Dowse) the supporting cast is where it is at: Girls‘ Adam Driver is there as Wallace’s best friend and Chantry’s cousin; Mackenzie Davis (last seen being very cool in That Awkward Moment) is his girlfriend who meet the same night Wallace and Chantry do; the primal fire and happiness of their relationship serving as a great contrast to the forced G ratedness of our leads. And yes, those two leads ARE people you want to root for (even if it is while fighting the urge to SHAKE SOME SENSE INTO THEM). The dialogue is cute and quippy; there is a whole running thing about poop and Fool’s Gold sandwiches that, while almost unsufferably cute, manages to actually be charming.
You and your tortured heart have been warned.