I can’t make a case that the quirky romantic comedy “What If” isn’t somewhat formulaic, but I can make the case that the formula itself is quite pleasant, and charmingly executed. The key ingredient is star Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Wallace, a funny and under confident young man adrift after a breakup that led him to drop out of medical school.
His best friend is played by Adam Driver, playing a slightly less disturbing version of his character on “Girls,” which is to say, a weird but intelligent and compelling fellow. When Radcliffe meets Driver’s cousin, Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party, they have an instant chemistry and a rapport based on silly dialogue you will either find charming or irritating, depending on your mood. If you’re a romantic, you will enjoy these two, but if you’re recovering from a breakup, the flu, or a hangover, your tolerance might not last.
Despite their attraction, barriers exist to their relationship, namely that Chantry lives with her boyfriend, a handsome and successful lawyer who Wallace inadvertently shoves out an open window on their first meeting. The film used restraint in portraying this boyfriend, Ben, as a jerk, and made it believable that Chantry would not want to abandon him for Wallace. Indeed, all of Wallace’s friends point out how much more desirable Ben is than him, and advise him that he has no chance.
Through various misadventures and encounters, the film maintains a modicum of suspense as to whether these two characters will end up together. Zoe Kazan was pleasant as the conflicted animator, and occasionally her drawings fly over the action for an additional dash of whimsy. The only thing against this film is that the world of quirkiness might be reaching saturation point, and we have stared through a set of heavy bangs into the eyes of many a manic pixie dream girl at this point.
This was worth watching above all for Radcliffe, who manages to jettison his Harry Potter past, but not in that horrifying Miley Cyrus way. He shows that he can play an attractive young Muggle, er, man, by simply doing so, and he delivers as an indie heartthrob. That’s not a word I thought I’d ever apply to Daniel Radcliffe.