Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Movie Review: The F Word (AKA What If)

The F Word (aka What If)
Directed by: Michael Dowse.
Written by: Elan Mastai based on the play by T.J. Dawe & Michael Rinaldi.
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe (Wallace), Zoe Kazan (Chantry), Megan Park (Dalia), Adam Driver (Allan), Mackenzie Davis (Nicole), Rafe Spall (Ben).

If nothing else, The F Word proves that the old, romantic comedy clichés can still work if they are delivered with wit and intelligence, by a likable cast. The F Word follows almost all of the standard issue romantic comedy clichés – a perfectly matched pair who meet cute, and are obviously meant for each other, who spend the entire movie denying the obvious, while bantering with their quirky best friends. But it’s all so warm and likable, and genuinely witty and funny, that I found it impossible to not be won over by it. Perhaps it’s because the romantic comedy, as a Hollywood institute, seems to be pretty much dead – you know when you`re reading think pieces about the good old days of films like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days the genre is waning – so I haven’t been subjected to this formula a half dozen times already this year. Or perhaps because it’s a Canadian movie, that loves Toronto, and doesn’t try to disguise it as New York. Or perhaps it’s just because Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan are so perfect together. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t help but fall for The F Word.

The movie opens at a party, where the morose Wallace (Radcliffe), still depressed after being dumped by his girlfriend a year ago, is basically hiding when he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan), and the two get to talking. They share an instant connection, but when he works up the nerve to ask for her number at the end of the night, she drops the bomb – she already had a boyfriend (who refreshingly is not an asshole). But she wants to be friends. Eventually, and reluctantly, he agrees – although he never stops being interested in her romantically. But he doesn’t make a move – he doesn’t want her to cheat. She also denies her own feelings – even to herself. So the two just hang out – constantly – but never act on their feelings.

The F Word indulges, knowingly, in all the clichés of the romantic comedy. Wallace has a best friend – Allan (Adam Driver) – a charming, goofy womanizer, who, of course, grows up when he falls in love – with another so called free spirit – Nicole (Mackenzie Davis). He dispenses advice to Wallace whenever the movie needs him. Chantry has a sister, Dalia (Megan Park), who thinks Wallace may be a suitable boyfriend for herself – or at least for a rebound – which, of course, makes Chantry realize her true feelings for Wallace. And Ben (Rafe Spall), Chantry`s boyfriend is constantly in the way – even when he moves to Ireland, he hangs over whatever impending relationship Wallace and Chantry may have.

The film was directed by Michael Dowse, whose last film was the immensely entertaining hockey movie Goon. Like that film, The F Word indulges in clichés, while making them seem fresh and new – or at least wraps those clichés in such an entertaining package, you don’t really care. After all, many clichés become clichés because they are effective. And they are effective here. As she proved in the underrated Ruby Sparks – which she also wrote – Zoe Kazan proves that she is a natural, quirky girl next door type – lovable, funny and cute. In a Hollywood romantic comedy, she would probably be relegated to the best friend, but she`s a natural romantic comedy leading lady. Radcliffe continues his impressive run of post Potter movies – here playing the shy, lovable and funny romantic comedy leading man to perfection. Driver and Davis are so well matched together that I almost wish there was an entirely different movie centered only on them.

The F Word doesn’t reinvent the romantic comedy. It is as clichéd as they come. But it does prove that romantic comedies can still work, even when they indulge in the classic clichés. It’s funny, well-acted and genuinely romantic – while also acknowledging that some of those grand romantic comedy gestures, that usually make the audience cheer, would actually be creepy in real life. It twists the genre just enough to make it feel new – even if it isn’t.

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