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Movie Review: “IF”

By Bob Garver

Movie Review: “IF”

My biggest complaint about writer/director/star John Krasinski’s new movie “IF”… is that it’s a movie. What I mean is that Krasinski clearly has some broad ideas for worldbuilding and there are many interesting characters in the mix, but the movie has to rush so much to stay within the “movie” format of a two-hour runtime that the whole thing is kind of a mess.


The story follows 12-year-old Bea (Cailey Fleming) as she stays with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw, charmingly reminding me of my own grandmother) while her widower father (Krasinski) is in the hospital for heart surgery. Her family does their best to keep her in good spirits, but Bea can only bring herself to split her time between being bored and worrying that she’ll lose another loved one.


One night, while her grandmother is asleep (she’s not the best at keeping tabs on the child), Bea catches a glimpse of a figure that doesn’t look like anything that’s possible. Following some snooping, Bea learns that the cartoon-like Blossom (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is an Imaginary Friend, or “IF,” long forgotten by her human friend, who grew up. Blossom and enormous IF goofball Blue (Steve Carell) live in an apartment upstairs from Bea’s grandmother alongside Cal (Ryan Reynolds), a grumpy adult. Cal has some sort of job trying to find new children for the IFs, but business doesn’t seem to be going so well. As in, I don’t think he’s ever succeeded. Bea volunteers to help.


Cal reluctantly takes Bea to a sort of retirement home for forgotten IFs. Bea meets all sorts of unusual creatures, usually anthropomorphic food or the embodiment of some dream occupation. The home’s teddy bear proprietor (the late Louis Gossett Jr.) is delighted that Bea is taking an interest and encourages her to not only put her best foot forward, but push Cal to step up his game as well.


The two get to work trying to find new children for the IFs, but are new children really the answer? It might be that what the IFs really need is to reconnect with their old children, despite them now being, well, old. Maybe a burst of childlike inspiration is just what the cynical adults need. This certainly seems to be true in the case of Blue’s sullen, now-grown child Jeremy (Bobby Moynihan). Are Blue and Jeremy still right for each other? Is what’s right for Blue right for all the other IFs? Keep in mind that Bea has to balance all these questions and goals with her father’s critical surgery drawing ever closer (to say nothing of keeping it all secret from the grandmother). Even if everything goes perfectly, emotions will still be high and tears will be shed.


The high-stakes business with the father’s health has to bookend the story, I’m not disputing that. But I wish Krasinski, with all his clout in Hollywood, had found a way to expand the middle part of this project. The movie is constantly having to establish rules and exposition that half the time it can’t keep straight anyway. For example, are the IFs in danger of disappearing? If so, under what circumstances, exactly? The possibility is brought up a few times but never expended. Then there are all the IFs besides Blossom and Blue that are voiced by talented people like Bradley Cooper and Emily Blunt that get maybe three lines and are relegated to rapid-fire sequences of no importance.


“IF” this movie had instead been, say, a 10-episode television or streaming miniseries, then maybe the first and last episodes could focus on family drama, but the other eight could have been for Bea and Cal just going on adventures to help the IFs, which is what I think Krasinski really wanted for this project. I want to be grateful for what we do get: a half-decent kids’ movie at a time when kids could use a decent movie. But I can’t help but think that when it came to directing more time, money, and resources at this material, what IF…

 

Grade: C

 

“IF” is rated PG for thematic elements and mild language. Its running time is 104 minutes.

 

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.





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