The F-Word

 Half the movies in existence don't depend on audiences wondering what will happen but how it will happen. This is the case with at least 99 percent of romantic comedies. The F-Word doesn't break any new ground in love stories, but something about it feels fresh all the same.

It takes place in Toronto, not the faux New York Toronto we often see in movies, but a romantic city with a Chicago-like skyline and lots of open space. It brings together (more or less) Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan, who have two big advantages: (1) They're appropriately young; and (2) They're just idiosyncratic and imperfect enough in their look and manner that we can believe in them as individuals and make the emotional investment.

Radcliffe is Wallace, who meets Chantry (Kazan), and their immediate bantering rapport bespeaks the kind of connection that might never get old. But Chantry has a perfectly nice boyfriend with a glamorous career, and so Wallace is put in the friend zone - at first willingly, then less so.

From here, you can probably write the rest of the story yourself, but the extra quality of magic - that's the hard part. "What If" creates drama, interest and longing just by placing the characters near each other. And something in the way director Michael Dowse presents them makes us see the two through each other's eyes, as the embodiment of everything worth having.

Radcliffe arrives as a wry, unconventionally handsome leading man. And Kazan is radiant. They are the serious couple - diminutive, cautious, sincere - supported here by a tall, wild, funny couple, played by Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis.

The forthright couple flanked by zanies - this has been a classic pattern dating all the way back to 1930s musicals. That's fine. Patterns only become cliches when they're misused. Other familiar patterns on display include convenient business trips and the intrusion of major life choices, but these don't feel like conveniences of the script but emblems of a time in life when big decisions must be made.

The F-Word is sprinkles fresh magic on romantic comedy.

- Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle


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