What If

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DIR: Michael Dowse • WRI: Elan Mastai • PRO: David Gross, Macdara Kelleher, Marc Stephenson • ED: Yvann Thibaudeau  • DOP: Rogier Stoffers •  Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, Rafe Spall, Megan Park

 


What If
is a title just as suggestive and open to interpretation, if in a somewhat different register, as the original name for this film, The F Word. While the latter, former title hints at the raunchy humour that cuts through its sweetness, like the bacon in a Fool’s Gold Loaf sandwich, What If suggests the longing, romantic potential of unrealised desire which motivates the film’s leads.

What If you met a woman with whom you have an instant, mutual attraction but she is already in a happy, long-term relationship? This is a situation which Wallace (Radcliffe), a somewhat morose medical-school drop-out with trust issues, initially views as a dilemma after he clicks with the shy, betrothed animator Chantry (Kazan) at a party.  After she rightly calls him out on not wanting to be friends because she has a boyfriend (Spall), the two embark on a fun-filled and engaging platonic friendship, frequently tested by increasingly ludicrous situations (two of which involve partial nudity), Chantry’s boyfriend’s relocation from Canada to Ireland, and their growing emotional connection.

Comparisons to (500) Days of Summer have been rife, and it’s easy to see why – the films share a quirky sensibility, a former child actor and indie darling as its stars, and forego some of the traditional beats and expectations of the genre. What If also manages the sadly rare feat of being a romantic comedy that is both convincingly romantic and actually funny.

With the central concern of the film’s plot  – can men and women be friends? – so reminiscent of a certain Rob Reiner comedy, and the frequently unlikely sources of deadpan humour, this could just have been When Harry (Potter) Met Sally, 2.0. What If, however, gives us slightly younger leads and takes some risks with its storytelling to make us second-guess the generically foregone conclusion. For example, the temptation to make Chantry’s boyfriend Ben a boring, careless loser we root for her to lose to be with Wallace is avoided. Instead, he is successful, intelligent, handsome, and a largely reasonable fella – complicating the rom-com route from A to B a little more than usual. Similarly, the intense parallel relationship of Allan (Driver) and Nicole (Davis) is another that has a less-than-fairytale structure, which makes it all the more interesting to watch its rapid development.

Occasionally, the film’s quirkiness is a bit cloying: Its animated interludes, non-sequitur in-jokes and hallucinated sequences are somewhat hit and miss. Similarly, the increasingly contrived situations ‘testing’ Wallace and Chandry’s friendship do detract from the naturalistic scenes where they just casually hang out and have believable, if earnest, conversations – scenes fizzing with good humour due to Kazan and Radcliffe’s effervescent chemistry.

The performances carry this film even through its weak points – these two light each other up, and the ultimate emotional denouement between the two is a really moving moment.  Kazan fleshes out her dithery character as a somewhat overwhelmed young woman with a lot of choices and potential, making her decisions or lack of decisions understandable and relatable. It’s great to see Radcliffe not only coming on as a talented comedic actor, but in a contemporary setting for once, even if the larger-than-life rising star Adam Driver, at 6 ft. 3, overshadows him both figuratively and literally as his flatmate. The unlikely presence of gawky Girls star Driver as a brash alpha-male actually sums up the type of romantic comedy What If is trying to be and what films in this recently weak, uncertain genre need to do to succeed – challenge expectations, balance romance and comedy, and have a deep bench of supporting players. Of these supporting players, as aforementioned, Rafe Spall makes for a winning spanner in the works; while Megan Park as Chantry’s sister Dalia, eschews the ditzy blonde stereotype she initially appears to fill in favour of quick, well-timed comedic relief; and Jemima Rooper, in a brief appearance as Wallace’s sister Ellie, has an impressively high laughs-to-screen-time ratio.

What If asks if we think these kinds of relationships can ever work, and is surprisingly mature in presenting its answers, even if the conclusion does feel a little neater than the sum of its parts and the complex, grey, follow-up questions.
What If your best friend is the love of your life? What If you went to see this smart, quirky and emotionally-engaging film, with sparkling lead performances, to find out?

 

Stacy Grouden

15A (See  IFCO for details)

101 minutes

What If is released 22nd August 

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Cinema Review: Earthbound

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DIR/WRI: Alan Brennan PRO: Heidi Madsen, Jacqueline Kerrin, Dominic Wright ED: Barry Moen DOP: P.J. Dillon Cast: Rafe Spall, Jenn Murray, David Morrissey, Carrie Crowley

It’s not unusual for a film to feature a central character who is alienated. We’ve seen variations on the loner and the outsider countless times but this amiable Irish film’s hero has good reason to feel displaced. Mainly because he believes that he actually is an alien.

Joe Norman (Rafe Spall) lives a seemingly normal if rather sheltered life in Dublin enlivened only by his rapt interest in science fiction. However, Joe’s obsession with the genre stems from his certainty that certain elements of sci-fi are based on fact and not fiction. Turns out that Joe’s father divulged a seismic family secret on his deathbed. Namely that despite having the appearance of a human, that Joe is actually an outcast alien from a distant planet Zalaxon. His father contends that they are hiding on Earth from intergalactic bounty hunters intent on snuffing Joe out.

This kind of earth shattering news accompanied by profound grief makes a lasting impact on Joe. As the primary action of the film begins twenty years later, Joe is still following the prime and last directive he received from his father – to hide himself away and limit interaction with the humans. Naturally this has guaranteed a lonely existence. However, after decades without any close calls or alien activity of any kind, doubt and a drop in vigilance begins to invade Joe’s life. He remains in contact with his father via a hologram of stored parental advice but his guardian’s pleas for incessant unwavering caution begin to fall on deaf ears.

Something in Joe is stirred by a meeting with a nubile human Maria (Jenn Murray). A sweet and tender courting follows until Joe reaches a defining moment when he must confess his true origins. Suffice to say – Maria does not take the news well. Soon Joe is dismissed as mad and appears on the cusp of being committed to an institution. Only in his darkest hour does the full truth finally emerge. Joe’s universe is going to be blown apart and maybe ours along with it.

Earthbound skilfully weaves in a story thread of depression and mental illness throughout that keeps uncertainty alive for the audience. Was Joe’s father just mad in the head? Has his son just inherited the same delusions? Is it all just a cruel lifelong folly that Joe has been burdened with? While never didactic, the film can’t help but reflect on that fine line between imagination and insanity. Anyone in a creative field can associate with hearing voices. The film could have settled for merely being a poignant exploration of deep grief. Ambitiously though, deep space is also served up in the same portion of quietly impressive entertainment.

Brennan is served by a stellar cast with Spall exuding a goofiness that doesn’t grate while also possessing enough inner steel to convince when the going gets tough. Speaking of which, Jenn Murray actually has the tougher role of the two. Striving and succeeding in keeping Maria endearing in the face of a betrayal that while believable could have hurt her standing in the audience’s eyes. Elsewhere, there’s a terrific vampy turn from Carrie Crowley which threatens to steal the show even from Ned Dennehy’s icy headhunter. While the ubiquitous David Morrissey brings vital gravitas and authority to his brief role.

It’s great to see Dublin locations being exploited so cleverly. Many buildings, backdrops and settings in the capital have strong sci-fi connotations if you look long and deep enough. And Brennan clearly has. Fans and especially non-fans of a relatively new modern Dublin landmark will surely get a buzz from seeing it launched into space. Brennan’s film is filled with wistful thinking, wit and even a little sprinkling of wonder. Rare enough qualities in films worldwide. Virtually extinct in homegrown ones. Until now.

James Phelan

12A (see IFCO website for details)

97mins
Earthbound is released on 15th March 2013

Earthbound – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9QE0f5aVdY

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Cinema Review: I Give It a Year

 

DIR/WRI: Dan Mazer PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Kris
Thykier DOP: Ben Davis ED: Tony Cranstoun DES: Simon Elliott Cast:
Rafe Spall, Rose Byrne, Anna Faris, Simon Baker, Jason Flemyng, Olivia
Colman, Stephen Merchant, Minnie Driver

A frequent collaborator of Sacha Baron Cohen (who can currently be
seen flexing his musical muscles in the awards-laden Les Miserables),
Dan Mazer forged his reputation as a producer/writer in both
television and film, with his crowning moment to date being his
Oscar-nominated work on the screenplay for Borat: Cultural Learnings
of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, which went
down a storm upon its release Stateside.

He has previously worked on the small screen as a director of certain
segments of Da Ali G Show, as well as the Zach Galifianakis-starring
Dog Bites Man, but I Give It a Year marks his first foray into silver
screen helming.

Featuring an instantly recognisable cast of British and overseas
talent, I Give It a Year focuses on Rafe Spall and Rose Byrne’s
newlywed couple, who find themselves in a real bind just nine months
into their marriage. Mostly told in a series of flashbacks with Olivia
Colman’s marital counselor, we witness the ups and downs of this
initially happy union, and how they are affected by their specific
circumstances.

On hand to complicate the equation are Spall’s former flame Anna
Faris, who has returned from her charitable endeavours overseas, and
the roguishly charming Simon Baker, who is more than willing to mix
business with pleasure in his dealings with Byrne.

Aiming to become a breakaway British comedy success, like Bridget
Jones’s Diary and Four Weddings and a Funeral before it, I Give It a
Year is a somewhat uneven comedy, which sometimes tries too hard to
keep the laughter ratio on the right track, but nevertheless has
enough moments to sustain its relatively slender running time.

Key to the film’s sustainability are some fine supporting performances
from reliable faces like Jason Flemyng, Stephen Merchant and Minnie
Driver, the latter of whom is enjoying a mini-revival on the strength
of roles in the Conviction, Barney’s Version and the underrated Hunky
Dory.

Her part is that of the bride’s best friend, which so often comes
across as stereotypical or caricatured, but thanks to the chemistry
between Driver and on-screen husband Flemyng, she helps to conjure up
some of the film’s biggest laughs.

Merchant is also entertaining, if a little underused (much like The
Farrelly Brothers’ Hall Pass) as Spall’s best man, while Colman
displays the comic chops that she honed in Hot Fuzz and Peep Show
before winning widespread acclaim for her extraordinary performance in
Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur.

In terms of the four-way romance at the heart of the film, the
Spall-Faris thread is more effective, as it is easier to symphatise
with with the husband’s predicament, given the warm history that he
shares with his former partner. Byrne, who showed in Get Him to the
Greek and Bridesmaids that she can be a dab hand at comedy, suffers
more when it comes to characterisation, though she does her level best
to make it work, as does Baker, her fellow Aussie co-star.

Spall, who is starting to step away from the shadow of his
highly-respected father Timothy, is a very engaging male lead, while
Faris (who is so often let down by the script in her chosen projects)
is as likeable as ever.

A neat twist on the standard rom-com finale aside, there is little
here that you won’t have seen before, and the jokes are quite often
‘hit and miss’, but Mazer’s film has more than enough going for it to
keep audiences onside.

Daire Walsh

16 (see IFCO website for details)

97 mins

I Give It a Year is released on 8th February 2013

I Give It a Year – Official Website

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