Saturday, September 27, 2014

Movie Buff: A Spoilerific Review of What If

More movies. More movie reviews. Filmic experiences the likes of which mediate the world thrice over, recasting all of existence in cinematographically well-framed glory!

This particular review was actually written in stages, as I watched the film.  Thus, it's a little scattered than most, and a little more self-contradictory than most.

Starting below.

What If?--or, as it's known outside North America, The F Word. Daniel Radcliffe stars as Wallace ,  a twenty-something young man who has recently broken up with his girlfriend after he caught her cheating on him, and is understandably a little miffed with that whole thing called love. He is moping at a party when, against zero movie odds, he meets his best friend's cousin, Chantry (which is a ridiculous name. It makes me think of shanties and pantries. Plus, it's the name of the religion in the videogame series Dragon Age.) and they hit it off. He walks her home, and they agree to hang out some more--and oh, by the way, this is where she lives with her boyfriend, Ben (Rafe Spall). Wally, being an upstanding sort, immediately backs off, and tries to keep it all platonic, but... SEXUAL TENSION.

The boyfriend is an expert on international copyright law, working with the United Nations on creating universal copyright agreements. This is largely to make the comparison that he's more impressive than Wally, being an expert, and to give an excuse for him to go on an extended work-related trip, so his absence lets the audience feel a little less sleazy rooting for the main pairing. For my side, it also had the side effect of making me hate him with a passion since the universal copyright agreement movement is largely driven by big corporations who doing everything they can to force unfavorable copyright deals on developing countries (which means I've done more research on Ben's job than this movie ever did, by virtue of reading the first ten pages of one book I've found on the Internet).

Fridge magnets are less profound than this movie thinks they are.

It's just... tiring. I mean, the point of the romantic comedy is that the would-be couple grow together despite some obvious problem, the obvious problem swells up, they tear apart, then they cleave back together. My language has gotten away from me at the end there. But it's one thing to watch a relationship come together, and a different thing to watch one fall apart, and doing both feels... kind of gross. And since the audience is watching the slow dissolution, since we know more than the significant other left in the cold, it almost makes us complicit in the whole thing. And it's not like it's a shock. You spend months hanging out together, going clubbing, and getting drunk?

 Back way back, I reviewed Take This Waltz. And at the time, I wasn't crazy about it. (The fact that I apparently missed the last scene where the lead breaks down sobbing probably didn't help.) The overall premise is very similar to What If?, in that they're both about two people coming together when one is already in a relationship. But a crucial difference there is the perspective. Take This Waltz is Margot's story, the woman already in a relationship. What If is more balanced, but it's still Wallace first and Chantry second. And it's interesting how that dynamic makes a difference. Margot chases her desire, and the result is destructive and dangerous, and even if it brings her joy, it also brings her a lot of pain. Wallace manfully resists temptation until true love becomes too much to resist. It suggests a very different perspective centered on gender--when a woman willfully destroys a relationship, it's a tragedy, when a guy pulls a girl away from an "obvious" creep, it's true love. Of course, another big difference is that Margot's other man never really pretended friendship was on the table; by insisting on it so fervently here, we're getting into creepy territory. While What If makes it clear that Chantry *is* into Wallace, the inadvertent message does seem to be "if you're friends with the girl you like, she'll eventually come around," which is basically the Nice Guy syndrome.

I didn't realize the movie was set in Canada until it showed Ben sitting at the Canadian spot in the UN delegation.

At one point, they establish how incredibly romantic Wallace is even when being a grumpypants by having him go see Princess Bride by himself. Meanwhile, I'm watching all these classic romance films by myself. Where are my props dammit! (Although I suppose you have to start by looking like Daniel Radcliffe, and he has a headstart in that department.)

Chantry is animator, and occasionally these weird animated butterfly things fly across the screen.

I realize that I am being the grumpypants. Love is confusing. Attraction is confusing. Feelings of friendship can change; it's no one's fault. People do their best to be happy. And there's more depth to both characters than I've alluded to; Wallace, for example, is particularly against pursuing Chantry because, well, there's the ex-girlfriend cheated on him thing, but also that his parents cheated on each other leading to the break-up of his marriage when he was a child. But it says something we never see what brought Ben and Chantry together; with Margot and her husband, we  see how their relationship worked, so it's all the more devastating when they fall apart. I imagine we don't see that with Ben and Chantry for much the same reason. So so much for plot. The film's got an endearing extended cast, and the leads do have chemistry. And it definitely gets a few points for making Chantry more than just the backdrop or manic pixie girl for Wallace to hang on to. It's just not the sort of conflict I'm looking for in my rom-com.

Adam Driver, of Girls, plays Allan, Chantry's cousin and Wallace's friend. His girlfriend Nicole is played by MacKenzie Davis. They're a weird, libidinously charged couple. I kind of wish the movie was about them.

There is an amazing amount of hoops to jump through to eventually get to the point where the JUST FRIENDS pair are naked together in a sleeping bag.

 Shortly after, there is a very ill-advised plane trip. It immediately brought to mind an AV Club review of an episode of Clone High, where one of the characters does the "stops the other from getting on a plane because of how they really feel" thing and...: “ 'I’m here to stop you from making the worst decision of my life.” Running to the gate (or as it would go today, security) is almost always a selfish act. The runner doesn’t care that the person getting on the plane has made a decision—just that the decision has totally screwed them over.'" That's pretty much what happens here, and I'm pretty glad that the one character calls the other on it. And it directly addresses some of my Nice Guy complaints.

The final climax point is long after Ben and Chantry break up, thus nullifying at least 3/4 of this review. Grumpypants is having trouble fitting into his grumpy pants because he no longer has a leg to stand on. Still, I'm going to maintain that a lot of the early parts of the film were unsatisfactory for all the reasons I've rambled.

It feels like they cut out a lot of stuff with Wallace's sister and nephew, so the later scenes with them don't flow as well as they should.

And then, in the last bit, it finally gets some emotion out of me with a very sentimental exchange of sandwiches.

Ok, too much sandwiches.

Was I always this bad at this reviewing thing? Stream of consciousness is not my friend.

This must be how my Twitter followers feel.

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