Love makes heavy demands of young Torontonians. First, Michael Cera had to battle his girlfriend's evil exes in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Now in What If, Daniel Radcliffe faces a potentially more agonizing struggle: meeting his soulmate (Zoe Kazan) only to learn she's already taken. Nevertheless, med-school dropout Wallace and animator Chantry pledge to be friends, swearing satisfaction with this arrangement to all skeptics. Cue the obvious response: Do we really need another When Harry Met Sally...? But that question assumes What If will be just another cynical, market study-spawned rom-com. Instead, director Michael Dowse and screenwriter Elan Mastai demonstrate genuine affection for the maligned genre, crafting a remarkably sincere film that thrives on conversational humor and convincing anxiety rather than contrived gags and charm offensives. Radcliffe's knack for deadpan self-deprecation works well for his embarrassment-prone Wallace, while Kazan vibrates like an over-caffeinated hummingbird when mocking him. As they bounce off one another discussing Elvis' eating habits or Marie Antoinette's gruesome fate, their friendship feels genuine and valuable in its own right, lending heightened stakes to the prospect of taking things to the next level.
Critic's Grade: B
SEE IT: What If is rated PG-13. It opens Friday at Fox Tower, Clackamas.