We watch romances for the same reasons we get on amusement park rides: we know where they will end… sometimes even the very path they will take. The very fact that some rides have gone horribly wrong only bolsters our illusion of risk and the excitement of victory. These adventures sometimes provide justification and sometimes hope, depending on where you are in life. Sometimes, for the more cynical, the absurdity of it all.
What If, is a perfectly sweet and predictable romance, and that’s OK. It works because it is played with great sincerity and naturalism by Radcliffe (Young Doctor’s Notebook) and Kazan (Ruby Sparks). For all of the quirks and oddities of the characters they create, you can see a core truth that will resonate because it is done with humor and honesty.
Balancing and driving the main couple are Driver (Frances Ha) and the relatively unknown Davis. The two provide the outer bounds of passion, the clowns with wisdom in the more serious play around them. Which is appropriate as this is an adapted play… that sensibility only makes the adaptation more accurate and, frankly, the characters aren’t that unrealistic in many ways.
In addition to the clowns, Spall (Anonymous) and Rooper (Kinky Boots) add additional foils for the main lovers. Neither is particularly believable, but each plays their roles as intended: broadly and as life lesson.
Director Dowse (Goon) took on the story well, allowing both the feel of a play but not stopping it from the evolution to screen. If it weren’t for the credits, I wouldn’t have realized it was an adaptation. It is obvious in retrospect, but it only made it more of a curious flavoring than anything distracting. Dowse is very good at keeping the story and characters grounded and their relationships as the anchor to the story rather than allowing the story to run the characters. It isn’t an easy thing to do when dealing with stock plots.
To see Radcliffe in a slightly different light, and simply for an affirming evening with someone you care about, this is worth your time. It won’t change your life, but it may give you a frisson of joy reminding yourself of what is possible or what you may already have.