Movie review: “What If” this romantic comedy works in spite of itself?

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From the August 14, 2014 edition

What if a romantic comedy is kinda cliché, kinda too clever and still kinda endearing? What if this wasn’t a rhetorical question?

If you want a good gauge for how you will like “What If,” think about how you feel about “(500) Days of Summer.” Did you find it eye-rollingly twee and obnoxious? Then “What If” probably isn’t for you. I, on the other hand, named “Days” my top movie of the year it came out (#sorrynotsorry). “What If” isn’t in that same caliber, but I enjoyed it, perhaps more than I should.

Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is feeling burned by a bad relationship when he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party. They exchange the sort of rapid-fire banter that only two people in a romantic comedy can have upon first meeting. When Wallace learns that Chantry has a live-in boyfriend, he decides to try being friends with her, despite his obvious attraction.

“What If” is slightly better in its look at relationships than its “friend zone” (ugh!) premise would suggest, though it’s certainly prone to the pitfalls and clichés of the genre. The script by Elan Mastai — adapted from a play by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi — has plenty of witty banter, but if suffers from the same affliction as, say, “Juno.” That’s to say all of the characters seem to share the same lightning-fast wit.

The reason “What If” rises above this — apart from the fact that I can be a sentimental sucker for this crap — is its cast. Kazan is nearly as good as she was in the underrated 2012 gem “Ruby Sparks” (which she also wrote). Radcliffe’s blustery lovestruck character will remind you more of a young Hugh Grant than, say, Harry Potter. He’s on his way to breaking that typecast.

There’s also fine support from Adam Driver (“Girls”) as the obligatory best friend, and it’s actually fun to watch the triangle play out. Here’s your date movie recommendation this weekend.

Photo courtesy of CBS Films

“What If”

Opens Friday

3 stars out of 4