Commentators have described the independent romantic comedy What If (rated PG-13 for crude talk, partial nudity, and sexual innuendo) as the modern When Harry Met Sally. The movie is modern in the sense that it doesn’t ask the question, “Can men and women be friends?” but rather “Is romance possible without sex?” For most 20- and 30-somethings who are out of college and thinking about settling down, romance has become the same thing as sex, the two inextricable.
Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party where he learns that she has a live-in boyfriend. He reluctantly agrees to be her friend, and they go on to spend time getting to know each other. Wallace’s friend Allan, one of a panoply of immature characters, regularly pesters him about whether he secretly wants to sleep with Chantry. “You can’t interact with a woman without sex screwing it up,” Wallace retorts.
Wallace is no preacher of abstinence; he admits his thoughts about Chantry aren’t pure, but he wants to believe that love is not an “all-purpose excuse for selfish behavior.” Wallace is in the cultural downstream of both ubiquitous hook-ups and old fashioned Hollywood romances. He goes to see The Princess Bride by himself. He’s still torn apart about his parents’ unfaithfulness to each other that led to their divorce.
Throughout the movie, Wallace and Chantry wearily listen to friends and co-workers discuss their latest sexual exploits—a familiar experience to many 20-somethings in the workplace. At one point, Wallace and Chantry’s friends abandon them on a beach without their clothes in the hopes that they will hook up; the setup backfires and the two are so embarrassed they can hardly speak to each other after.
The film’s tone is uneven, the comedy is mostly unfunny, and the excessive sarcastic banter almost drowns the romance. But Radcliffe’s magnetic performance redeems some of the flaws. The ending, without revealing too much, sides with an idea of romance that goes against the current trends.