Gemma Creagh gets real with family friendly feature IF

Despite being a visual treat fuelled with all the joy and silliness, quips and physical comedy that the trailer promises, IF, as a piece of cinema, is something quite unexpected. In a time when big titles are fueled by existing IP, laden with big set pieces, and dopamine-inducing choppy editing, there’s a quiet thoughtfulness to this film that harks back to a different era in cinema altogether. 

Having grown up in New York with a doting grandmother (Fiona Shaw) and two smitten and happy parents, young Bea (Cailey Fleming)’s life is changed forever when she loses her mother to cancer. Now, it’s been years since she’s been in the city, but at age 12, she has to move back in with her grandmother. Her father (John Krasinski) must undergo a serious operation on his heart in the same hospital Bea watched her mother deteriorate in. Her grandmother and father do their best to stay upbeat, Krasinski bringing his warm charm to a character hell bent lightening the mood with gimmicks and tricks. But Bea is insistent to them both: she doesn’t need this. She’s no longer a child and they don’t have to protect her. As she leaves the apartment, she happens across the rather dapper Cal (Ryan Reynolds) and 1940s-era animated ballerina Blossom (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Bea follows them and after some sleuthing she discovers that they are IFs – imaginary friends whose children have forgotten they exist. 

And thus begins her journey into this strange and sensational world. Cal brings Bea to a retirement facility for IFs located under a disused theme park in New Jersey. This sanctuary is fueled by imagination and inhabited by a host  of wacky characters; Awkwafina voices a nervous floating Bubble, Sam Rockwell voices a superhero Dog; Bradley Cooper plays an ice cube in a glass while  Amy Schumer plays a flatulent Gummy Bear. And those are just a bare morsel of the Smörgåsbord of celebrities lending vocal performances to Krasinski’s weird and wonderful creations. Cal and Blossom enlist Bea in their plan to find purpose for these forgotten IFs, and potentially find them new children to help. 

Krasinski was inspired to write the film during the pandemic. Watching his two young daughters play in their imaginary realm, he wrote this to honour that fictitious world. What’s highly unusual about his writing, and the most refreshing element of IF, is the sidestep from the worn cliches of the hero’s journey. Cal and Bea aren’t saving the city from a bad guy, Bea doesn’t have to reach deep into herself to find a magical metaphorical strength that saves the day. In fact the stakes are never even that high. This is an existential journey focused on healing and acceptance. Through helping the IFs, and connecting them with the people that need them, Bea learns to process her own fears and pain, to allow herself to reinhabit the space of being a child. Underpinning her story is a rich, well executed collection of sub arcs that lead Bea to that quiet realisation.  

Tonally, the comedy always plays second fiddle to the emotive, and while far from subtle, there’s an earnest authenticity that lends this weight. This is enforced by the sheer depth of the performances from the live action cast. Bobby Moynihan, a man known for his farcical character acting, initially graces the screen as clumsy, sweating, anxious, and constantly dropping things. Perfectly teed up for a punchline or fart joke. But that’s not what plays out. As the now grown up child of big hairy, and rather silly IF, Blue (voiced by Steve Carrell), he must deliver the pitch of his career. However, Moynihan embodies this character with a fear, with a sense of doubt and self-loathing that’s palpable, so when Blue’s soothing connection calms him, there’s a gut punch to that payoff. 

This was just one of many moments; others of note included Liza Colón-Zayas as the kindly nurse Janet who’s IF was designed to protect her or Fiona Shaw’s forced smile to Bea masking the pain of a grieving mother who’s lost her child. However, with subject matter like this, the weight of the entire film lives and dies on the range of the young protagonist. And Cailey Fleming delivers. She’s a standout young talent whose poise and range are worth the ticket price alone.  

A perfect film for a family outing, IF builds a rich and complex universe that both adults and kids alike can get lost in.

IF is in cinemas from 17th May 2024. 


Gemma Creagh is a writer, filmmaker and journalist. In 2014 she graduated with a First from NUIG’s MA Writing programme. Gemma’s play Spoiling Sunset was staged in Galway as part of the Jerome Hynes One Act Play series in 2014. Gemma was one of eight playwrights selected for AboutFACE’s 2021 Transatlantic Tales and is presently developing a play with the Axis Theatre and with the support of the Arts Council. She has been commissioned to submit a play by Voyeur Theatre to potentially be performed in Summer 2023 as part of the local arts festival. Gemma was the writer and co-producer of the five-part comedy Rental Boys for RTÉ’s Storyland. She has gone on to write, direct and produce shorts which screened at festivals around the world. She was commissioned to direct the short film, After You, by Filmbase and TBCT. Gemma has penned articles for magazines, industry websites and national newspapers, she’s the assistant editor for Film Ireland and she contributes reviews to RTE Radio One’s Arena on occasion.

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