In the last two decades, romantic comedies have learned to add drama, killer music, and realistic dialogue to create richer and more evocative experiences on film. (See: Chasing Amy, High Fidelity, Garden State, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and 500 Days of Summer.) (Seriously, see them.)
The F Word (or the more generically titled What If, in the U.S.) follows that same path, but still manages to keep one foot planted in the mentality of pre-‘90s rom-coms like When Harry Met Sally… and Moonstruck. Oddly, instead of seeming of two time periods, The F Word finds a happy blend of the two styles and ends up being one of the better romantic comedies of the last few years.
Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan) meet-cute at a party one night and immediately find their eccentric personalities to be on the same wavelength. (They bond over fridge magnet poetry.) At the end of the night, Wallace asks for Chantry’s number, and gets it, right before finding out she has a boyfriend.
Dipping its toes into “Can men and women just be friends?” territory without feeling too derivative, Wallace and Chantry become close friends, much to the concern of Chantry’s fiancé, Ben (Rafe Spall), and Wallace’s best friend, Allan (Adam Driver) — who’s also Chantry’s cousin.
Radcliffe’s post-Harry Potter career in film has done a mostly effective job of shedding the connection between him and the boy wizard, but his performance as Wallace is the first role he’s truly disappeared into and casting away moments of audience recognition.
Kazan, so impressive in last year’s quirky Ruby Sparks, does wonders with a fully fleshed out character here. Her work as Chantry flirts with the same greatness present in Annie Hall’s titular character or Chasing Amy’s Alyssa.
What’s more, the chemistry between Radcliffe and Kazan is palpably invigorating. The characters shares moment of beautiful simplicity and delightful humour that are made all the more electrifying by how well Radcliffe and Kazan play off of each other. Their characters truly feel like best friends, in the same way Harry and Sally did 25 years ago. It’s rare for two actors to have the kind of palpable energy that holds your attention during every scene, but The F Word’s leads make it seem effortless.
Proudly taking place in Toronto and not hiding it, The F Word has a Canadian mentality but is blessed with better production values than some of its peers. The result is a film with the feel of an American movie but the genial tone of a Canadian one, and it’s a pairing that works marvellously. Not since 2007’s Juno has a Canadian comedy felt so solidly produced while remaining so enjoyably light-hearted and witty.
With The F Word covering some of the same ground a few romantic comedies have in the past, there are invariably one or two scenes that feel a little familiar. For the most part, though, director Michael Dowse and screenwriter Elan Mastai have created a future classic rom-com that is both influenced by earlier entries in the genre and deserving of placement on the same shelf.
4½ stars / 5
(The F Word opens in wide release August 22.)