Tag Archives: Adam Driver

Silence

“They’re not dying for God. They’re dying for you.”

Holy shit, where to begin. I really didn’t want to watch Silence.

A film centred around the persecution of Christians and Christianity in Japan during the 17th century doesn’t really float my boat the way it would a lot of others. Scorsese’s latest or not, I’m not the kind of guy that likes being preached at for nearly three hours.

Silence interests me on an historical level, but I’d prefer a documentary on the subject rather than the film, thanks very much. But there I was, in my comfy seat ready for a few hours of sermons hoping for the best.

Volunteering to make a pilgrimage to Japan, Jesuit priests Rodrigues and Garrpe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, respectively) are searching a country in which their religion is outlawed for their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). With no word from their old teacher bar a years old letter reporting on the state of the country before his reported conversion to Buddhism, the young idealists walk into one of the most dangerous places to be a Christian with the hopes of getting answers and spreading the word of God.

In a harrowing time to be a Jesuit, the pair are forced, along with the persecuted Japanese Christians, to hide from a country determined to wipe them out, with a man known as “The Inquisitor” hunting out as many of them as he can. The priests and their country-wide congregation have an uncertain future filled with humiliation, torture and possible death if they are caught.

Jesus Christ this was a tough film to watch!

I mean, it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, as you would expect from a film directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese. It looks beautiful and its leads (a pair I don’t really care all that much for) are very good together on that screen. Both Driver and Garfield are very convincing as the priests facing the ultimate test of their faith under the most extraordinary of circumstances. Their story is a predictable one and plays out almost exactly as you imagine it will once you realise just what kind of film you are watching; but that in no way stops either of them, nor the slew of actors supporting them, from putting their all into their performances and convincing me just what an awful time the Christians living in Japan had.

Much to my surprise, I found myself engrossed with what I saw on screen. As dozens of indigenous Christians are hunted out and brutally tortured for your viewing pleasure, you can’t help but to try to will them to denounce their faith from your seat. You can’t help but get angry when they don’t. And you can’t help but want to scream at them when the logic of the devout is to believe that no answer to their prayers is indeed it’s own answer. It’s a purposeful lesson in annoyance for people like me who need logic in their lives. While the film tries desperately to convince me that these people were strong and devout, certain less friendly words were rolling around in my head after the first couple of times these people refused to save their own lives. I know, that’s the whole point, but it’s a point lost on me almost completely.

And don’t even get me started on the arsehole that repeatedly fucks everything up for everybody only to believe that he’ll be forgiven time and time again – then he is! It’s a recurring theme across the entire film that beggars belief and makes you truly wonder as to the logic some of these people live by.

Narration is provided, for the most part, by Andrew Garfield’s Father Rodrigues as he writes letters back to the church in his homeland. It sets the tone as the story continues rather well. Unfortunately, toward the final act, narration is complimented with voice over from sources that interrupt the flow of story telling. On more than one occasion I mistook a voice in the head of a mentally and physically tortured priest for that of continued narration and completely lost the plot of what was going on because the voice sounded so much like an additional narrator that it became genuinely difficult to keep track of the story.

Silence has been a passion project of Scorsese’s for a lot of years, and that love and respect shows in the film I saw today. But it’s not the second coming of Christ as some may be preaching it to be. There’s no doubt that it’s a brilliant film, but it’s one I don’t think I need to watch again. I wouldn’t even necessarily suggest it be seen in the cinema. The big screen experience is all well and good, but you’ll miss nothing from watching it at home and you’ll gain the ability to pause the film and go take a piss without missing anything.

London Film Festival 2016: Day 5

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by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Regular followers of my work, whether that be written articles found on my site (callumpetch.com), my former Hullfire Radio show Screen 1, or here on Failed Critics, will likely be aware that I really don’t like costume dramas.  It’s not for a lack of trying, mind you; I don’t automatically become actively contemptuous and roll my eyes heavily whenever I spy a costume drama that I’m going to have to watch.  I just really don’t like them.  They’ve basically never grabbed me, whether they be classics of the genre like the BBC’s version of Pride and Prejudice, or modern critical darlings like Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd, or just apparently enjoyable fluff like Carey Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre adaptation.  I try so very hard to be interested, hooked, engaged… yet I inevitably get sent to sleep by them, and that’s not an exaggeration.  I find the dialogue to be alternately impenetrable and nowhere near as witty as it thinks it’s being, I find the conflicts to be far too insufferable upper-class-wankery to be able to get invested, the pacing to be unreasonably slow, and most all of them carry this air of self-importance to their own existence that keeps me at arm’s length at all times.

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I tell you this so that you can adequately understand just how much I love Terrence Davies’ A Quiet Passion (Grade: A-); that even I, a hardcore costume drama sceptic, could fall effortlessly in love with this absolutely phenomenal biopic of Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon).  Of course, that’s probably because it steers clear of the typical costume drama problems, as well as the typical biopic problems; dressing itself up in that 18th Century upper-class English garb despite being set in 19th Century America and telling a story with issues specific to that time but free from the usual bourgeois un-relatable frivolity that turns me off of these sorts of movies.  This is a film that is far less interested in Dickinson as a poet and far more in Dickinson as a person – her complicated relationship with faith and the 19th Century’s hardline Christianity, her fears of death and mundanity, of a life unfulfilled, the difficulty of being an outspoken woman even when surrounded by supposedly supportive family, the condescension she received for trying to be a female artist, and how loneliness and self-loathing can curdle into bitterness and outward hatred.

It moves at a measured pace but avoids tipping over into slowness.  Whole months can suddenly pass without any prior warning, Emily continues to write but often makes no further progress in stature as a poet – late on in the film, she mentions having had 11 poems at most published at that late point in her life – her days empty and unfulfilling as friends come and go, family members marry or depart, and Emily slowly becomes more reclusive and difficult for people other than her sister Lavina (Jennifer Ehle) to be around.  It’s something that becomes really affecting the longer the film runs for, the viewer slowly acclimating to the fact that Emily, in life at least, ultimately became and lived the very life she was so afraid of succumbing to.  It’s hard, but truthful, like the Brontë works that Emily admires yet are written off by male tastemakers out-of-hand as worthless trash that grab the heart but not the memory, and that’s what makes the film hit.  Davies’ script is brilliant, but it’s also often a very light thing, which I don’t mean as an insult.  It’s genuinely witty, highly quotable, and manages to craft a great complex sketch of its subject.

That complexity then ends up being wonderfully realised by a revelatory Cynthia Nixon.  She’s bitingly witty in ways that are hilarious and hurtful.  She’s clearly wracked with great pain and aching desire, the kind where you want to give her a great big hug and tell her it’s all going to be alright, but it’s the kind of pain that’s deep-seated and toxic, where she wants intimacy but can’t stop herself from pushing away anybody who gets too close.  She’s not always likeable, but she’s always sympathetic, and this herculean work by Nixon is what helps elevate A Quiet Passion into being one of the year’s best films.  It’s immensely entertaining viewing, captivating and measured without becoming ponderous and glacial, witty and sophisticated but also heartbreaking and solemn, of a time yet universal in its relatability.  Quietly brilliant and loudly phenomenal at the same time; Emily Dickinson could not have received a more fitting movie.

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Conveniently, or possibly rather shrewdly on the part of festival programmers, the other big film screened today, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson (Grade: B/B+), is also a measured character study about a creatively unfulfilled poet, this one played by Adam Driver.  Paterson (Driver) lives in Paterson, New Jersey with his loving wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and their bulldog Marvin, and works as a bus driver.  His real passion appears to be writing poetry, poetry that he’s really good at, but he resists labelling himself as a poet and, in fact, refuses to show anyone his book of poems despite the urgings of Laura.  He goes through life following the exact same daily routine, living modestly and quietly and never really doing much of consequence, as we see through the one week of his life that the film covers.

Paterson doesn’t say much, and we don’t get to see inside of him that much, but one gets the sense that, despite his claims that he’s content with his lot in life, he’s deeply unhappy with much of it.  Or, at the very least, that he’s unfulfilled with the direction his life is going in.  Laura appears to feel similarly, but where Paterson’s unspoken unfulfilment leads to him sheltering his creative output to the rest of the world, Laura instead throws her energy behind 20 different things at once – interior decorating, cupcake making, learning the guitar so she can become a world-famous country singer – hoping that at least one of them sticks and brings the validation she so desperately craves.  It’s a study of two people who don’t know what they want but do know that, aside from each other (as the film never once hints that they are anything other than deeply in love with one another), what they do want is not this.

As somebody who himself has been struggling lately with uncertainty and anxiety over not knowing exactly what it is he actually wants in life, Paterson frequently managed to strike a genuine chord with me, but maybe not enough for me to become as enthusiastic about it as I was with A Quiet Passion.  It’s a very dry and introspective film, sometimes too much for its own good due to just how hard it is to get much of a read on Paterson himself.  That said, it also possesses a sardonic wit and sense of humour about itself that manifests itself in often unexpected but incredibly funny ways, as the film finds the funny in the mundane weirdness that can occur in your day-to-day life.  Driver is really good, but I was more impressed by Farahani and her effortlessly charming and lived-in performance, and the pair have a wonderful sweet chemistry together that re-routes the film every time it threatens to meander off the tracks.  It’s very Jarmusch, to reduce things to their bluntest terms, so your enjoyment will vary depending on your prior tolerance for Jarmusch films.  As for me, I was engaged more often than not, and there are some moments of genuine profundity in here.

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My journeys into the realm of getting press or rush tickets for public screenings have been wildly hit-and-miss so far, with the surprising find of the vital Chasing Asylum and the expectation-exceeding Christine being followed up by the sadly disappointing Jewel’s Catch One and, now, the nasty and awful Chameleon (Grade: D-).  The debut feature from writer-director Jorge Riquelme Serrano and playing in competition, Chameleon follows a bickering lesbian Chilean couple, Paula (Paula Zúñiga) and Pauli (Paulina Urrutia), the day after they host a going-away party for Paula, who is moving to London for a job.  They wake up, shower, clean up the house, have a bicker about leaving the taps running, and then the doorbell rings.  It’s a handsome young man (Gastón Salgado) who was a friend of a friend’s at their party last night, and he’s brought glasses and wine to make up for said friend supposedly acting like a jackass.  Paula invites him in but is suspicious.  His story sounds shady, he seems really interested in ploughing the ladies with wine, and he doesn’t seem to get the hint during much of Pauli and Paula’s bickering that he needs to leave.

Then things get nasty.  There’s the germ of an interesting movie in here – particularly since the director clarified in the post-film Q&A that it was made in response to the disproportionately high rate of violence against women in Chile – but the way that Chameleon goes about it is in the nastiest, ugliest manner possible.  If the film removed the open nastiness for something more subtle and unsettling, or chose to dive deep into examining why the man does what he does, then maybe the film could have had something.  Instead, the more unsettling moments of gaslighting and emotional manipulation are undercut by extended sequences of sudden extreme violence, forced-drugging, and some good-old-fashioned rape for good measure.  The film also fails to find anything to say about the subject beyond “random violence by monstrous men is a thing that happens,” and that’s nowhere near as unique an insight as Serrano seems to believe it is.

But it doesn’t stop there, either.  For one, this is somehow the third film I’ve seen in as many days whose attempts to challenge our preconceptions about rape and the issue of consent turn out to be, “But what if the woman WANTED to be raped?” and maybe we should just stop men from writing stories about rape for the time being.  (Side note: that sentence is actually unnecessarily reductive and harsh to Elle, which I think handled this complex and provocative idea somewhat well, but dear lord do I need that film to come out so I can actually talk about it with other people.)  Whilst for two, the film opens and briefly flashes back to the young man performing the same sort of routine on the gay man he attended the unseen party with, and although the film and the director refute him being so, this ends up leading to the film tracking in some of the harmful stereotypes of depraved bisexuals that I, someone who identifies as bisexual himself, am just so sick and tired of seeing in the media, especially since much of his treatment of his victims carries sexual undertones on his part.

The only thing that saves Chameleon from being an utterly disgusting disgrace is the fact that it at least has the common sense to realise that what is happening is disturbing and unconscionable, and doesn’t intentionally become exploitative garbage.  But the longer it runs on for, the clearer it becomes that there is no point being made here, and that there being no point being made is not intentional.  If it were more like the underseen Compliance or Michael Haneke’s original Funny Games, Chameleon may have been salvageable.  Instead, I do not blame the drove of people who walked out just prior to the hour mark.  The only reason I stayed myself was due to my principle of never walking out of a movie, and even I have to question whether that was worth it.

Day 6: Amy Adams makes first contact as Denis Villeneuve follows up the instant classic Sicario with Arrival.

Callum Petch knows you’ve always had a feather head.  You can usually find him at callumpetch.com!  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Vancouver International Film Festival 2016

Our Vancouver-based writer, Nicholas Lay (of In Layman’s Terms), recently found himself in the midst of the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival. Here, he rounds up seven of the more intriguing pictures featured this year…

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Drama / Gangster

Director: Chung Mong-hong

Country of Origin: Taiwan

As an avid lover of classic Hong Kong cinema, the news that comedy legend Michael Hui (of the Hui brothers) was starring in Taiwanese director Chung Mong-hong’s new gangster flick, AND that said gangster flick was playing at VIFF, meant it was almost inevitable that Godspeed would be the first ticket I purchased at the festival this year.

A purveyor of satirical, character-driven comedy since the 1980s, Hui’s wise-but-cynical cab driver spins Mong-hong’s winding yarns into dry, droll gold as he and his companion, the wonderfully blank Na Dow, cruise down to southern Taiwan in order for the latter to perform the sort of drug deal we all know is going to go badly wrong.

Godspeed won’t be for everyone, but if you’re in the foreign language market for a violent, darkly humorous, subtle technical achievement (Nagao Nakashima’s ranging cinematography is gorgeous at times), then definitely make a note of this one for later.

Watch the trailer here.


Hello Destroyer

Drama

Director: Kevan Funk

Country of Origin: Canada

Without doubt the most depressing film I’ve seen this year (seriously), Kevan Funk’s debut feature, Hello Destroyer, is a bleak, painfully frank examination of the cycle of violence forever present at the heart of Canada’s national pastime.

Flirting with the blurred boundaries of an enforcer – regardless of the level the game is played at – the focus is Tyson Burr, an up-and-coming rookie riding the only talent he has ever been pushed to develop in the hope that, one day, his career may reach the pinnacle that is the NHL. Instead, one overly zealous decision, one single product of the nurturing he has received at the hands of the system; sees him gradually nudged back toward the cold, hard reality of the small town BC life he so desperately wants to escape.

The excruciating, systematically ruthless descent of Tyson as both a hockey player and a human being is ramped up by Funk’s intense style and a haunted, empathy-inspiring turn by Jared Abrahamson.

Trailer yet to be released.

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In a Valley of Violence

Western

Director: Ti West

Country of Origin: USA

Those who’ve seen writer/director Ti West’s acclaimed micro-budget horror flick, The House of the Devil, will be familiar with his ability to transform a basic premise, a limited cast, a lead character who spends a large portion of time on their own, and plenty of glorious homage-paying into a workable, enjoyable picture. Finally moving away from horror, West turns his eye to the old school Western.

In a Valley of Violence follows a similar pattern to The House of the Devil, and certainly lives up to its name; as West holds nothing back in this backwater tale of fully justified (trust me, you’ll agree) revenge. Ethan Hawke stars as the wandering gunslinger, while John Travolta makes a random, but welcome appearance as the local Marshal.

There’s nothing all too groundbreaking about the film as a whole, but it looks great and West’s writing – particularly the comedy – is strong, as is the timing provided it by his cast. The modern subtext, deliberate or not, of Hawke’s character’s past and the small town setting – like recent neo-Western, Hell or High Water – is equally as interesting, but, if I’m being honest, the highlight is one hundred percent the quite marvellous canine performance of Hawke’s trusty mutt, Abbie.

Watch the trailer here.


Moonlight

Drama

Director: Barry Jenkins

Country of Origin: USA

Riding into town on the crest of the TIFF hype wave, Moonlight became one of the higher profile features at VIFF, due to the elevated levels of chat it enjoyed in advance. A moving journey along the path of one young man’s lifelong struggle as a black homosexual, trying to find his place in a forgotten, poverty-ridden corner of modern America; Moonlight is a highly relevant commentary on the stereotypes and social injustice that still plague a great number of people far more often than the odd flash on the news many of us are privy too.

Writer/director Barry Jenkins visual eye contrasts the striking and peaceful with the deliberately claustrophobic. One could argue he goes a tad overboard with the odd “artsy” sequence here and there, but it’s a minor complaint.

Featuring solid performances from the well arranged ensemble cast, Moonlight is more a conveyance of intriguing, vital subject matter than a “great” film. In these uncertain times, however, it certainly deserves a watch.

Watch the trailer here.

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Paterson

Drama / Comedy

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Country of Origin: USA

Without question the highlight of my VIFF experience this year, Jim Jarmusch’s week-in-the-life of Adam Driver’s bus driving, poetry-composing lead character, Paterson, who lives in the town of Paterson, NJ, is a both a study, and itself a triumph of nuanced creativity, set against the mundane nature of everyday life.

Jarmusch has always been an unconventional filmmaker (in case you’re unaware, one of his films stars Forest Whitaker as a modern day, urban samurai and mafia guardian angel – and it is awesome), and Paterson is no exception to his repertoire. Pulling us in close to his characters’ eccentric normalness with a tight script and beautiful direction, Jarmusch masterfully sets up sequences of tension and relief that are clearly trivial in the grand scheme of things, but genuinely have you on the edge of your seat in the world of Paterson and Co. Moment after moment of sly comedic genius compliments such an approach, with everything from ordinary background objects, to the slightest facial reaction of our lead character playing a part alongside the amusing, dialogue-driven interactions that sustain his various relationships.

Driver, whose career goes from strength to strength, spearheads a top notch cast opposite Goldshifteh Farahani, with further stellar canine involvement (a running theme at VIFF) and a brief, but memorable cameo from Method Man, as Jarmusch revisits the Wu-Tang connection he established years back on Ghost Dog (which, if you’re yet to Google it, is the Forest Whitaker flick mentioned above).

Watch the trailer here.


Under the Shadow

Horror

Director: Babak Anvari

Country of Origin: UK / Jordan / Qatar

We often speak of the literal horrors of war, but rarely does the field of cinematic horror find itself in the midst of the battlefield. Iranian writer/director Babak Anvari sets out to change that with his subtext-layered, Under the Shadow; set beneath the harrowing barrage of Iraqi bombs raining down upon Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war.

The standard premise of a mother and daughter haunted in their own home is given a new lease of life by the backdrop of war, as Anvari dances on our nerves with a tightly wound depiction of his characters’ increasingly desperate predicament. The horror is both further emphasised and enhanced due to the depressingly intriguing military, political, and social quandaries faced by our two lead characters throughout.

Aided by standout performances from Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi, Anvari has fired the gun on adding an extra layer or two to the usual jump-punctuated screamfest formula.

Watch the trailer here.

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Weirdos

Drama / Comedy

Director: Bruce McDonald

Country of Origin: Canada

Balancing out Hello Destroyer’s dark take on small town life north of the border; Weirdos is veteran director Bruce McDonald’s black and white throwback to the folksy, teen-dream Canadian road trips of the mid-70s.

A true coming-of-age tale, Daniel Maclvor’s witty script follows Kit (Dylan Authors) and his girlfriend, Alice (a breakout performance by Julia Sarah Stone), as they seek out his metaphorically long-lost mother (Molly Parker, House of Cards) across the province of Nova Scotia. Rebellious teenagers having their insular, cherry-picked ambitions dashed on a regular basis is hardly anything new, but McDonald’s comforting sense of awkward calm ultimately succeeds in providing the heartwarming sense of hope necessary to bring the picture full circle.

One of the highlights of VIFF 2016, Weirdos is a softly spoken ride that does its best to convince you that, in the end, everything will be all right.

Trailer yet to be released.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame © 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved..

My love affair with Star Wars began in 1997 when they were re-released in to cinemas for the 20th anniversary of A New Hope hitting the silver screen. I was 10 or 11 and had not seen them on television before – or at least not to my recollection.

Sure, I’d seen other big action films before. I had certainly seen Jaws and Jurassic Park – and I am sure that I had seen Apollo 13 too. All great, but nothing blew me away quite like Star Wars.

When ‘A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away’ hit the screen, followed by the fanfare, opening crawl and shots of spaceships in battle, I was overawed and in love straight away.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m no geek or nerd, and you won’t find me at Comic-Con or bidding on eBay for the mint condition collectable of ‘second alien from the right in the Mos Eisley Cantina’. But if there are two things I’m obsessed with, then it’s football and Star Wars. That’s in spite of the prequels trying to dampen my love for them.

So, when Disney bought the rights from George Lucas and announced a new trilogy plus spinoffs, bidding to build a Star Wars version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my excitement was tempered by trepidation. Would this be another Gungan filled Phantom Menace, or a return to form?

I’m happy to say it was the latter; a fun film that just felt like Star Wars. There were no trade disputes or convoluted issues in the senate hall. It was fun, it was exciting, it was intriguing, it was emotional, it was laugh out loud funny and it was dark.

Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2D2, C3PO and The Millennium Falcon all return to the franchise along with a number of background and secondary characters, giving call backs to the original trilogy (not much, if anything, from the prequels found its way to this to this corner of the galaxy) making certain that you are in Star Wars territory.

In fact, Han and Chewie are their usual, roguish, all-action selves. You can’t help but love the pair and feel a twinge of joy and nostalgia most of the time that they are on the screen.

However, it’s the new cast members that steal the show. This was John Boyega and Daisy Ridley’s big screen debut – arguably Adam Driver’s as well – and they perform admirably. Certainly adapting to and growing into their roles, as the reluctant heroes Finn and Rey, and the villainous Kylo Ren.

Kylo Ren is dark. Really dark. Darker than the darkside dark; conflicted and irrational. You get this real sense of menace from him. Although Snokes (his ‘boss’) lacked that and one of the downsides was his CGI appearance – not to give too much away, as I’m sure there’s more to come.

The Tarkin, to Ren’s Vader, was played by Domhall Gleeson. A small role performed well – again, hopefully there’s more to come in subsequent films.

It was as though Ridley and Boyega had to come out of this on top. One minor gripe from me: Their thick British and American accents respectively did grate a little bit.

Other than that though, they were both excellent. Especially when you consider it was two relative unknowns taking over the reins in cinema’s biggest franchise. I’ve no doubt big things await the pair.

Finally, Oscar Isaac was great in the limited role he was given as an X-Wing pilot and modern-day Han Solo, Poe Dameron. Charming, funny and adventurous; it will be good to see an expanded role for the Resistance’s best pilot in future films.

The action was as you would expect: Fast paced and fun, with jokes aplenty (more than any of the originals). Whereas the comedy in the prequels fell flat, this hit all of the right notes. And, of course, John Williams scores the film perfectly.

JJ Abrams has proven that he was the right choice for director. He rebooted Star Trek well enough for the big screen – although Into Darkness had its problems – and was trusted with this. He put the right team around him and successfully pulled it off.

I’m sure the film has its faults. Maybe once I calm down I’ll notice them? Still, it was a joy to watch and left me with a smile on my face, but still wanting more.

It’s not the best Star Wars film, but it is better than any of the prequels by some way and I think it is as good as Return of the Jedi, if not better.

What If

What If this was a good movie?  Ha.  Ha ha.  No, but seriously, this is insufferable tripe.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

what if 1It took roughly 20 minutes for me to consider whether walking out of the cinema would be preferable to sitting through the remaining 82 of What If, a “romantic” “comedy” from Michael Dowse, the director of 2012’s exceptional Goon.  It was during yet another conversation about shit, at least the fifth in that very short time-span, that I genuinely started wondering if I should just get up and leave.  Oh, I should mention, that is not me comically oversimplifying the various “witty” conversations that our two leads, Wallace and Chantry (and, no, I’m not making that up, either, that is her actual name), engage in.  There are multiple lengthy, graphic, in-depth and overall disgusting conversations about shit and, specifically, the way that you deal with a dead person’s shit.  This film has a weird obsession with shit which is apt, quite frankly, seeing as the film itself is total, irredeemable shit.

Folks, this one made me angry.  It made me really angry.  I saw it for free at an early screening and I wondered if I could go up to staff after the film had finished and try to swing getting a refund.  What If (previously titled “The F Word”) is a thoroughly misguided film predicated on two of the most vehemently unlikeable rom-com leads I have had the displeasure of being forced to be in the company of in I don’t even know how long.  Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in Blended were more likeable than these two turd-buckets!  At least their romance wasn’t based around them both being the most terrible people and having to screw over a perfectly decent guy in the process.  And this would be fine if that was the point or if the film at least had the tiniest bit of self-awareness of just how terrible these characters are and how their prospective romance makes them despicable people, but it’s there egging them on at every opportunity and openly inviting you, the viewer, to beg them to just cheat on the third wheel with one another so that true love can conquer all and other such shite.  Funnily enough, I did not; in fact, I found it quite reprehensible and only wanted them both to get together because they, being utter shitstains of human beings, truly deserved each other.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  Daniel Radcliffe plays Wallace, a British med-student drop out living in Toronto with his sister and her son and nursing a broken heart after his girlfriend, a fellow med-student, cheated on him over a year ago with their professor (and, yes, he did drop out as a result of this because he is a child).  At a party, his friend Allan (the normally dependable Adam Driver) introduces him to his animator cousin Chantry (Zoe Kasan) and the two hit it off until she offhandedly reveals that she has a boyfriend of five years, Ben (Rafe Spall, goddammit).  Wallace seems ready to just forget they ever met (because he is a child), but circumstances conspire to have them keep meeting up and they resolve to remain friends.  Except that both Chantry and Wallace seem to be really attracted to one-another, and when Ben’s job forces him to leave the country for six months, Chantry ends up spending more and more time with Wallace and you receive absolutely no prizes for guessing what eventually happens between the pair.

Here’s the thing, Ben absolutely does not deserve the treatment he gets put through by both Wallace and Chantry (hang on, allow me a second to restrain my laughter rage at that ridiculous name; apologies to any actual Chantrys out there, but when your name is used for a character in a rom-com as try-too-hard quirky as this one, I’m going to find it stupid).  You know how in rom-coms where one of the two leads are already in a relationship with somebody they make that other person a giant dick or show the lead to be unhappy in that current relationship, in order to make it less of a moral quandary that you’re basically wanting them to cheat or dump their partner to get with the other lead?  Yeah, that doesn’t happen here.  Ben is a stand-up guy, Chantry is happy being in a relationship with him, and they both try really hard to make the long-distance thing work.  The only crimes that Ben is shown to be guilty of are being correctly suspicious that Wallace just wants to get into Chantry’s pants, and not daring to ask her if she wanted to move with him to Dublin which he didn’t do because he didn’t want her to choose between her job and him.  That’s it.

Yet the film wants you to shout “YEAH!  F*CK THAT GUY!  You go for Wallace, Chantry!  You two are clearly meant to be together!”  And I know that that is the film’s intention because it keeps constructing these scenes where the pair share longing glances at one another, where the soft focus is deployed, the reverb drenched guitar strings ring, and one or the other spends a long time uncomfortably close to each other looking like they’re strongly considering making out.  Maker, there’s even a bit where the two go skinny dipping and Chantry actually says to Wallace as they both keep their gazes at eye level and cover up their private parts, “I’ll look if you look.”  So, what exactly is Ben guilty of?  Why should I root for Chantry to cheat on this perfectly nice man?  Because he may possibly have cheated on her with a member of the Argentinian delegation?  OK, why would I believe that, seeing as it’s Chantry’s suspicious accusatory remarks over a Ben and film who have given me absolutely no reason to disbelieve his insistence that they’re just friends?  Because he didn’t ask her to move to Dublin?  That would be a bit more understandable if, I dunno, his swell and non-dickish behaviour had given me any reason to distrust his pleas that he understands how much Chantry loves her job and doesn’t want her to have to sacrifice her career for their relationship.  Because he strongly distrusts Wallace’s intentions to just be friends with Chantry?  Err, yeah, sorry to burst your bubble, What If, but he’s completely right.

Why am I supposed to root for these two to screw over this guy?  He even asks for Chantry’s approval before taking the job overseas, and it’s not like those times where characters like her reluctantly say yes.  She jumps into his arms and embraces him over the idea!  He tries really hard to make the long-distance thing work, as does she.  He even takes her out with him on work-related commitments when she visits unannounced in order to spend time with her.  Why should I have to root for misery and unhappiness to befall him?  Because she can come up with more alternative names for Cool Whip with Wallace than she can with Ben?  F*ck off.  And this is especially bad with Wallace as, lest we forget, his last relationship ended when he was cheated on and we’re supposed to view that as completely unforgivable.  Yet we are supposed to root for Chantry to cheat on Ben with Wallace as it’s for true love, and Allan’s girlfriend (Mackenzie Davis) met Allen by cheating on her boyfriend too but that’s OK because true love!  So, according to What If, cheating is perfectly fine and dandy as long as the person you’re doing it with is your true love, otherwise it is an unforgivable sin and you are perfectly within your rights to act like a petulant child over it.

Again, this would all be fine if the film was about the fact that these are terrible people or if it had any modicum of self-awareness about proceedings or if the film really was just a mature look at how you handle being friends with someone you have a giant crush on but is off-limits (which is something I have been through multiple times, let me tell you).  But it isn’t, it doesn’t, and it doesn’t want to be.  It wants to be a straight rom-com where you are supposed to root for these two to get together no matter the cost.  There is one scene near the end where it seems like the film has been building all along to the “surprise, they’re terrible people!” reveal, but then it just turns out to be the late-game falling-out scene that staves off the inevitable for another ten minutes, like in pretty much every rom-com ever.  In a world where Gravity Falls, a Disney Channel cartoon for children between the ages of 8 and 11, is able to offer up a mature, heartfelt and sensible take on this kind of scenario, there is no excuse for something like What If (although that sounds like a dig at Gravity Falls, one of the best shows on television, which it is not, but I’m getting off-topic).

And maybe I could forgive this if the rest of the film wasn’t so insufferable.  But the presentation is so half-assedly try-too-hard quirky (the first half of the film has frequent overlays of stuff like how Fool’s Gold is made, or faces of people that our leads were previously in long-term relationships with when they’re discussed, or has Chantry’s animations very occasionally be displayed in the real world to create a false sense that they mean anything; before dropping all such “quirky” stylistic cues in the entire second half), and the leads are so checked out (Harry Potter proved that Daniel Radcliffe could be rather proficient at deadpan snarking but he clearly does not give a crap here) and have so little chemistry with one another, and the supporting cast are all so inept or so totally wasted (Adam Driver turns up to alternately say dickish-yet-ultimately-right things or yell randomly because people who yell are funny), and the script is completely devoid of wit (once again: shit) or jokes or actual romance, that I can’t.  I just can’t.  There is nothing decent about this film and all that ends up doing is exposing its more systemic flaws.

What If’s premise, a look at how hard it can be to remain friends with someone you have a giant crush on, is one that deserves far better than it is served here: as a straight rom-com that asks the audience to root for the petulant guy who doesn’t seem to understand boundaries and a girl who permanently seems five seconds away from cheating on her boyfriend to get together and screw over this perfectly nice third wheel.  If the film was more mature or showed reasons for the audience to get behind this central will-they/won’t-they (like maybe Ben really is a dick, or actually showing Ben and Chantry growing apart from one another), it could still be salvaged.  But the script is tone-deaf and has no setting beyond “but TRUE LOVE!!”  Mind, in the end, I was rooting for Wallace and Chantry to get together because, as it turns out, they really do deserve each other as they are both utter shitdicks.  Still didn’t stop me greeting the ending with a resounding “Oh, f*ck off,” of course.

Call me old-fashioned, but I like my romantic-comedies to contain at least a trace amount of romance and/or comedy.  As you may be able to gather, I don’t find possible infidelity to be particularly romantic, and as for the comedy I would like to once again remind you that there are multiple conversations about faecal matter and shit in dead people.  I despise this movie, despise it with every fibre of my being, and I will give both of my hands, Only God Forgives style, before I let this film go down as anything other than a putrid stain on the rom-com genre.  Do not let Daniel Radcliffe’s face fool you, this is tripe.  Avoid at all costs.

What If is released in cinemas nationwide from Wednesday 20 August 2014.

Callum Petch hopes it doesn’t seem like he’s young, foolish and green.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!