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Janna is a staff writer for The Hudsucker. Born and raised in a small Ontario town, she made her move to Toronto for university and immediately fell in love with the excitement and pace of the big city. She holds an Honors Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Production from York University, specializing in editing and screenwriting. She currently works as an assistant editor for a television production company. Janna loves stories told in all mediums, especially film, and takes herself to the movies as much as she possibly can. She can generally be found taking a Zumba class, exploring some of Toronto’s lesser-known gems, or relaxing with her fluffy feline roommate.

“WHAT IF”: A Rom-Com That Won’t Give You Cavities

Can men and women really be just friends? It’s a question as old as time, almost, and one that’s been posed in dozens upon dozens of romantic comedies. It’s clichéd, it’s tired, and it’s been proven untrue countless times. But this month’s new romantic comedy, What If, asks a slightly different question: can a man and a woman be strictly friends if there are romantic feelings involved?

What If—known as The F Word in Canada and internationally—is the new romantic comedy starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan. It’s the story of Wallace (Radcliffe), an ex-med student who’s burnt out from a string of failed relationships, and Chantry (Kazan), an animator who lives with her longtime boyfriend. The film opens as they meet at a party and form a bond, and together, they puzzle out what it means when you discover that your best friend might also be the love of your life.

Credit CBS Films

Credit CBS Films

What If, directed by Michael Dowse and written by Elan Mastai, is based on a play by Toronto playwright T.J. Dawe. The film debuted last September at the Toronto International Film Festival, and in the year since, has gone through several test screenings and is now playing all over the world. Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend a screening of What If (then known only as The F Word), and I absolutely loved it. Now that the film has been reworked, renamed, and is opening in wide release, I’ve gone back to revisit the film. Below, I’ll talk about the film’s strengths, its weaknesses, the changes made between the first and final screenings, and why What If is the one romantic comedy you don’t want to miss.

Beware—small spoilers below!

Now that the film is being released and the press is reporting on it, I’ve heard What If being referred to as “the friend-zone comedy”—even the “F” in the international title The F Word stands for “friend”. But I believe that describing it as such does it a disservice. Yes, What If is the story of two friends who fall in love. Yes, What If dances near the tired and clichéd question, “Can men and women really be friends?” But that’s not really what the film’s asking. It’s asking, “can a man and woman only be friends if there are romantic feelings involved?” It’s a subtle difference, but it’s one that saves the film from being yet another When Harry Met Sally. What If asks its question in a way that feels grounded and real, and in doing so, sidesteps so many of the potential traps and flaws it could have easy fallen prey to. Radcliffe and Kazan are likeable together and have a real chemistry, and play the relationship between Wallace and Chantry with care. The movie often shows its desire to be based in reality, punishing the characters when they do something clichéd or have “movie moments”. Wallace and Chantry’s friendship feels real and true, allowing them to avoid the “friend-zone” tropes and character types they so easily could have fallen into. What If may not be giving much new insight into male/female friendships, but it presents its story in a grounded, realistic way. And that makes all the difference.

Credit CBS Films

Credit CBS Films

One of the best ways that the film stays grounded is through its characters. What If’s biggest strength, hands down, is the film’s characters. Both Wallace and Chantry are well-written—they both have personalities, strengths, flaws, and goals. They’re three-dimensional, on equal footing, and neither exists to prop up the story of the other. Both characters have moments where they’re in the right, and both characters have moments where they’re in the wrong. They’re likeable, you root for them, but they aren’t infallible. Radcliffe and Kazan handle the characters’ quick-paced banter well, with enough awkwardly endearing laughs and stumbles to make their lines believable instead of forced and scripted. Kazan, a lesser-known talent, is refreshing and likeable; Radcliffe handles comedy well, and it’s enjoyable to see him in a modern, everyman role like this. On top of all this, the film’s supporting characters are interesting and entertaining. Allan, Nicole, Ben, and Dalia are distinct, unique, and all have their own personalities—they don’t simply exist to feed lines to the leads. The relationships they have with Wallace and Chantry feel real and relatable, and it’s easy to imagine the lives these four characters are living when they aren’t onscreen. The actors portraying them—Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, Rafe Spall, and Megan Park—bring life and honesty to their roles. The characters What If has developed, and the actors that have brought them to life, are the true gems of this film.

Being a Torontonian myself, the fact that What If was not only shot in Toronto, but is actually set in Toronto, has me thrilled. The film makes no secret of where it’s set—we see Toronto postcards, the city name is mentioned multiple times, and there are many shots of the CN Tower, Toronto’s most famous landmark. The cinematography is well-composed and well-coloured, and the film is put together in such a way that it makes Toronto look just as beautiful as New York, Chicago, or any other famous city. What If is proud of its Canadian ties and roots, and it’s thrilling to me to see my city framed in such a positive, prominent light. Even if I didn’t love the film, I’d appreciate it for that fact alone.

Credit CBS FIlms

Credit CBS FIlms

Of course, no film is without fault. When I saw a screening of What If at the Toronto International Film Festival a year ago—back when it was known solely as The F Word—the film had a much more open ending than it does now, in its final version. A year ago, What If ended with a question—a suggestion, with a world of possibility opening up for the characters. In the year since, the filmmakers have shot a new ending for the film, added on with a subtitle that reads “Eighteen Months Later”. While I understand that test screening audiences asked for more closure on the story, I think the filmmakers went too far with the new ending they shot. They tied everything up in a nice little bow, gave Wallace and Chantry a real happily ever after, and I believe they did their film a disservice. What If often touches on the fact that real life isn’t like a romantic comedy—in real life, things are messy, complicated, and hard, and love is dealing with the hardships and working together to get to the good. While the new scenes are sweet, What If’s ending is definitive and final, leaving no questions unanswered, and life isn’t like that. Life is messy, and open, and full of possibility and opportunity. That’s what the original ending had, and I wish they’d stuck with it.

The film also removed a plot point from the original version—one in which I believe they were right to remove. The original film featured Chantry and her boyfriend Ben splitting in a very definitive, more dramatic way. This original plotline put most, if not all, of the fault on Ben—by removing Ben’s terrible transgression, it lets the romance of Ben and Chantry run its course. The final cut of the film doesn’t villanize Chantry or Ben, which is a good thing. In so many movies, we see relationships end in major, disastrous, terrible ways, and it’s nice to see one where a couple breaks up for reasons other than heinousness.

Credit CBS FIlms

Credit CBS FIlms

However, in removing this relationship-ending plot point, What If forgot one major thing: it never actually states that Ben and Chantry have broken up. In this final version, the film tells us that things are on the rocks with the couple—one is in Dublin, one is moving to Taiwan, and both of them are confused. But never does the film actually tell us that their relationship has ended! So when things start to happen with Wallace and Chantry, it undermines both of their characters. With Wallace so adamant about not breaking the couple up for the whole film, and with Chantry insisting that she has never been, and won’t be, a cheater, having them come together and do what they’ve been trying not to do for most of the film—cheat on Ben—ruins so much of what the film has worked to establish in both their characters. If only the filmmakers had slipped a line back in from the original cut, something about Ben and Chantry splitting up in Dublin, they would have fixed the film’s original main issue quite well. Alas, they slipped up and missed the mark.

But despite the simple, straightforward ending and the plot problem they’ve created, What If is sweet, funny, and entertaining. The characters feel real, the writing is clever, and the city of Toronto is as beautiful as it could ever possibly be. What If is a movie that made me smile a year ago at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it’s a movie that’s still making me smile today. And I think it’ll make other viewers smile, too.

What If—or The F Word in some countries—is now in wide release.

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