Comedy Drama

Romantically Challenged Film Review: The F Word

August 22, 2014Ben MK

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A rom-com uncensored...

The romantic comedy is dead. At least, that's what we've been led to believe. But whoever first made that statement obviously never bore witness to the sparks flying between Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan, the most adorable on-screen couple this side of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel and the two leads in director Michael Dowse's slightly-askew rom-com, The F Word. In the film, Radcliffe and Kazan play a couple who seem destined to be together, if not for one seemingly insurmountable problem: they're stuck in "the friend zone".


Radcliffe plays Wallace, a former med student who now spends his days toiling away at a mundane job, writing software user manuals, and his nights sitting on his roof, mournfully contemplating his status as a lonely, unattached twenty-something. It's been over a year since Wallace caught his ex-girlfriend, fellow med student Megan (Sarah Gadon), cheating on him, and he still hasn't gotten over their split.

Enter Chantry (Kazan), a talented and soulful animator. After accidentally bumping into one another at a party, she and Wallace strike up a conversation over his cynical fridge magnet poetry and by the end of the night Wallace finds himself walking Chantry back to her house. Things seem to be looking up — romantically-speaking — but then she drops the bomb: the dreaded F-word. It turns out that Chantry already has a live-in boyfriend, international copyright lawyer Ben (Rafe Spall), and she just wants to be friends.

Dissuaded by the cruel irony, Wallace is all but ready to relinquish the notion that the two of them could ever be romantically linked. But when he and Chantry start casually spending time together, he realizes that will be easier said than done. Likewise, Chantry begins to wonder if Wallace might be a better romantic match for her than Ben, who seems more interested in furthering his career than anything else. And when a work-related opportunity opens up for Ben in Dublin, he seizes it, leaving Chantry on her own to figure things out with Wallace.

Making the situation even more complicated are Wallace and Chantry's inner circle of friends: Chantry's sister, Dalia (Megan Park), who's just gone through a breakup of her own and who sets her sights on Wallace as her rebound fling; and Wallace's roommate, Allan (Adam Driver), who also happens to be Chantry's cousin, and his girlfriend, Nicole (Mackenzie Davis), whose apparently boundless relationship bliss causes Wallace to doubt his own dating ethos.

Penned by Elan Mastai and adapted from the Toronto-based play Toothpaste and Cigars, by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi, the script creates ample opportunity for moon-eyed fawning and long-distance navel-gazing. And indeed, that's how many of its scenes play out, with, for example, an innocuous shopping trip for the pair ending in a will-they-or-won't-they smooch standoff. But despite the film's tendencies to dive head-first into a veritable ocean swimming with rom-com clichés, Radcliffe, Kazan and the rest of the extremely likeable cast make it work, due in no small part to their off-the-charts chemistry and quirky, earnest and endearing performances.

The film also serves as somewhat of a showcase for the city of Toronto, which has been thrust into the global spotlight as of late, thanks to the unusual antics of its larger-than-life mayor. But unlike the news headlines, there's no controversy here, as the scenes shot in and around local landmarks — such as the boardwalk along Harbourfront, The Royal Theatre and The George St. Diner, which plays an especially prominent role in proceedings — conjure up an air of magic, akin to the New York City scenery in Woody Allen's Annie Hall.

That's not to say that The F Word exists on the same plateau as Allen's iconic 1977 film — which is one of the greatest romantic comedies ever made and arguably the movie that's contributed the most to this current trend of meet-cute filmmaking — but it does have a certain sense of self-assuredness and unflappable whimsicality that dares you not to like it, even though this is the kind of storytelling we've all seen before.

The Bottom Line Curiously enough, the film has been retitled What If for American markets, but the original title suits it so much better, giving it a slightly edgy quality while simultaneously hitting the subject matter square on the nose. And it's befitting of the way that Dowse and his actors tackle the all-too-familiar material as well, as they choose not to try to reinvent the romantic comedy, but rather to embrace the genre wholeheartedly, putting their own charming spin on it that's impossible to resist. Whether you love rom-coms, hate them, or love to hate them, one thing is clear: the romantic comedy is alive and well in The F Word Ben Mk

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