Med School dropout Daniel Radcliffe is struggling to get over an ex and has no interest in meeting anyone new until he runs into animator Zoe Kazan at a house party. There's an instant attraction but (worse luck) Kazan has a boyfriend (Spall), who happens to be a decent bloke (worser luck). and she's not the type to cheat (worst luck). The two agree to be friends but when Spall moves to Dublin for a job they begin to spend time together...
With its emphasis on young professionals going out of their way to pretend they're not in love, with its hip soundtrack, and with one foot in indie territory, What If is after the 500 Days Of Summer audience, which is no bad thing. While the obviousness of it all can't be avoided, writer Elan Mastai (adapting T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi's play Toothpaste and Cigars), undercuts the usual rom-com conventions where available by turning what could have easily have been cute get-together moments right on their heads; a skinny dipping scene doesn’t go the way one would expect and it’s highly unusual for the characters to resist acting on their plot-justified (more of this later) feelings.
However, the dialogue doesn't flow the way it should, even when it's reworking theories from When Harry Met Sally, forcing poor Adam Driver (underused again) to shout just to drive some life into his lines: "I've just had sex and I'm eating NACHOS!" And its treatment of Spall as a being unworthy of Kazan, thus justifying her feelings for Radcliffe, is all too easy. Spall doesn’t deserve her, the movie says, because he gets a pepper in his eye – a sneaky way to diminish his masculinity and his suitability as a boyfriend in the eyes of the audience – and he chooses a promotion over her. Okay, that one is less defendable, but how many times have we seen a lack of get-up-and-go being grounds for the boot? In What If, it’s Ambition Bad, Professional Apathy (Kazan refuses promotion twice) Good.
But it has oodles of charm thanks to Radcliffe and Kazan. The wordy dialogue doesn’t help Radcliffe, who has to grapple with the kind of lines he isn’t used to, but the lack of standout quips actually work in his favour. He plays it down, as does the magic Kazan - all effortlessly cute and doe-eyed, the talented actor (and writer) could tell you someone dear has cancer and you’d still think it’s good news such is her charisma.