I’m a huge romantic. I enjoy reading or watching good love stories, especially the feel good kind. The late ’80s and ’90s saw an explosion of the feel good love stories that we often categorize as romantic comedies. By now, there’s nothing particularly new about this genre of film. It follows the usual formula everyone will recognize––boy meets girl, boy and girl are so obviously right for each other but one or both don’t realize it yet, boy and girl are put in a situation where there’s a delay in the two getting together but the attraction to each other is undeniable, a revelation happens, cue sweeping romantic gesture and confession, and finally the couple get together and live happily ever after. There’s a variation to the formula, but the end result is still the same and it’s for your favorite couple to end up blissfully together.
The romantic comedy formula has been tired, used, and beaten down with a stick until there’s nothing left to squeeze out of it. Plots have become too predictable and the circumstances a little too far-fetched to ever really happen to anybody.
I used to devour every romantic comedy as a pre-teen to teenager because the genre hasn’t been exhausted just yet. I also think the movies were much better back then too. Now? I can barely watch the ones that come out without cringing. The movies are usually really bad or the main couple has no onscreen chemistry to make me believe they would ever fall in love with each other. I typically avoid rom-coms now or rent them on Netflix if I’m particularly bored and want a good laugh. I’ve pretty much checked out of the genre until one indie film snuck up on me and demanded I pay attention. The movie? What If.
What If stars Daniel Radcliffe as Wallace and Zoe Kazan as Chantry who meet at a party, have an immediate connection, and settle into an easy rapport with one another as if they’ve known each other for years. Naturally, they start dating. Not exactly. Chantry already has a boyfriend. All interactions between Wallace and Chantry should have ended there at that declaration. I mean, they only just met. There’s no obligation to continue talking to each other, right? At Chantry’s insistence, she still wishes to stay in contact with Wallace and hang out as friends. The “friend zone” is every guy or girl’s worst nightmare no matter what the context is, but Wallace concedes because he enjoys Chantry’s company. Like any rom-com, complications ensue and it follows Wallace and Chantry’s attempts to keep their relationship purely platonic without crossing any boundaries.
The movie has a similar idea that When Harry Met Sally proposed decades before––can two people of the opposite sex truly be “just friends” with each other? There’s a difference between When Harry Met Sally and What If. Harry and Sally have an already established, long-time friendship. It takes them time to realize they may have developed romantic feelings for each other that goes beyond friendship. There were opportunities for them to get together, at least from what my vague memory can remember of the film, but one or both of them screw things up. To be fair, there wouldn’t be a movie if they didn’t stretch out their eventual union.
What If has Chantry already in a relationship and Wallace trying to be the good guy and not let his romantic feelings get in the way of being Chantry’s close friend. Between When Harry Met Sally and What If, What If actually presents a more realistic and plausible situation that can happen to anyone. I feel like When Harry Met Sally over complicates the plot a bit. What takes an entire movie for Harry and Sally to work out the change of their feelings for each other, it should have taken one serious conversation to sort out how to proceed in their relationship.
What If isn’t without its flaws, as it does have the same formulaic trappings of a rom-com and the ending is still predictable, but what makes this a far better rom-com movie I have seen in a long time is the amazing onscreen chemistry between Radcliffe and Kazan, better writing, and a much more authentic situation that doesn’t make you snicker at the absurdity the couple find themselves in. It’s about as real as a romantic comedy can get, and I appreciate how the movie shows the conflicting feelings Wallace and Chantry have to deal with in a serious and gentle way.
It’s messy on both sides when two people have feelings for each other, but the circumstances aren’t ideal for them to act on those feelings, one being in a serious relationship and the other being single. It’s both tragic and frustrating at the same time. As in life, there are only two ways a situation like this one can go––you either end up with the one you really want to be with or you don’t and your feelings remain unrequited. Obviously, What If doesn’t pick the sadder option.
The story could have easily gone in a non-happy ending way, making it even more true to life when things don’t always go the way you want them to, but I still like the occasional happy ending in my movies. It’s also much more satisfying to see Wallace and Chantry end up together because love was born out of a strong friendship the two shared. If what they say is true about love having a better chance of lasting for a long time when it’s built from two people starting out as friends first and a couple second, I know Wallace and Chantry will make it last a lifetime.
Romantic comedies will always be feel good type of movies and an escapist genre of films. Love and relationships are much more complicated in real life and it’s enough to make most people cynical and not believe in the possibility of a happily ever after. Personally, I choose to believe in the best outcome in life, love, and relationships. There’s enough people out there being cynical for me. I refuse to jump on that bandwagon by caving in to what the masses are already doing. As a good friend reminded me, things can and sometimes do work out in life. You just have to allow it to happen to you.
If more romantic comedies like What If are made, I’ll have more reason to have a renewed interest in the rom-com genre. I want to escape into a good love story, but I like to have them grounded in reality. Give me a healthy dose of effervescent romance and a plausible plot about two people who are meant to meet and fall in love, and I’ll keep coming back for more.