Adventure Comedy

Review: ‘IF’ is a High-Concept Fantasy Adventure that Falls Short of Being a Modern Family Classic

May 15, 2024Ben MK

As adults, we so often get bogged down by the stresses of our day-to-day lives that it can be easy to overlook the little things that make life worth living. However, if we really want to learn how to experience things with a sense of wonderment again, we need only aspire to be more like our younger selves. As children, it's easy to see the goodness in everything around us because we haven't yet experienced many of the hardships life has to offer. And in IF, writer-director John Krasinski sets out to rekindle a little bit of that childlike innocence in audiences, in this family-friendly fable about the magic of being a kid and the importance of holding onto that magic as grown-ups.

Boasting a star-studded cast, the story follows Bea (Cailey Fleming), a 12-year-old girl on the cusp of adolescence whose life was changed forever when her mom passed away. Now, with her dad (Krasinski) in hospital for heart surgery, Bea is feeling anxious and afraid all over again. Moving back into her parents' old New York City apartment with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw), Bea is determined to put her old childhood whims aside and face the current situation like the adult she's becoming. However, when she notices a mysterious creature going to and from one of the apartments upstairs, she decides to follow it to find out just what exactly is going on. It's a decision sparked by curiosity that will mark Bea's first steps into a wondrous world populated by a host of fantastical and friendly characters most people don't even realize are there. What she doesn't expect, though, is to also rediscover some of the childhood innocence she thought she had left behind when she meets Calvin (Ryan Reynolds), a man on a self-appointed mission to help the cartoonish life forms that only he and Bea can see.

Operating out of his apartment crammed with books, old records and various knick knacks, Calvin has been working on a way to match up long-forgotten imaginary friends — or IFs, as they call themselves — with lonely children like Benjamin (Alan Kim), who may just be in need of a little emotional support and companionship. Up until this point, however, his success rate has been less than stellar, a disappointing statistic that Bea hopes to turn around by volunteering to help him with his imaginative endeavor. Accompanying Calvin on one of his regular visits to a Coney Island retirement community geared exclusively for IFs, Bea is introduced to all the IFs in need of new kids, from a small dog dressed as a superhero to a cute little unicorn with the ability to create rainbows. If Bea and Calvin are to have any hope of actually giving all of these IFs a new lease on life and a renewed purpose, though, they might have to change up their approach and start thinking outside of the box.

Featuring the voices of Steve Carell, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Louis Gossett Jr., to name a few, the result is as wholesome and well-intentioned as summer blockbusters come. Unfortunately, despite its admirably heartfelt aspirations, IF still falls short of being the modern family classic it genuinely believes itself to be. Whether it's its emotional scenes, which oftentimes feel unearned, its humor, which oftentimes falls flat, or Reynolds himself, whose usual sarcastic schtick has become so tiresome that he comes across as being disinterested in his own performance, there are a multitude of reasons why Krasinski's fifth feature directorial effort never quite takes flight. In spite of all these flaws, however, the movie's messaging still manages to shine through.

It all adds up to a fantastical adventure that may aim squarely for the moon, but which ultimately winds up as disappointingly less than the sum of its parts. And while there's no doubt a moviegoing demographic out there for whom IF certainly qualifies are heartstring-tugging material, for the majority of viewers, it's a high-concept tale that will forever and sadly remain the type of story that could have been.

IF releases May 17th, 2024 from Paramount Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for thematic elements and mild language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 44 min.

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