Monday 23 September 2019

Movie Review: The F Word (2013)

A romantic comedy about the pitfalls of friendship evolving into love, The F Word (here the F is for Friends; the film is also known as What If? to sidestep the sly original title) features good laughs, amiable performances and sparking chemistry but not much originality.

In Toronto, technical manual writer Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is finally over his previous failed relationship. At a party he meets animation artist Chantry (Zoe Kazan), the cousin of his best friend Allan (Adam Driver). Wallace and Chantry hit it off, but agree to be just friends because she is already in a long-term committed relationship with boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall), a United Nations policy negotiator.

Allan enters into a new relationship with Nicole (Mackenzie Davis), while Chantry's sister Dalia (Megan Park) tries to seduce Wallace. Ben relocates to Ireland for a six month assignment, clearing the way for Wallace and Chantry to develop a stronger bond. But transforming a deep friendship into a romance will not be easy for either of them.

The age old question of whether men and women can ever be just friends gets another treatment, and in the hands of director Michael Dowse and a game cast, the potholes along the well-intentioned road of friendship provide ample opportunities for humour. A Canadian-Irish co-production, The F Word offers a satisfying clutch of idiosyncratic characters navigating careers and love lives, and while the ultimate destination is as predictable as the genre demands, the journey is never less than pleasantly breezy.

The conundrum of an emerging attraction with one partner already pre-committed powers the film. Ben is a rising star in his chosen career field and offers plenty of attractive stability, but he may already be taking the relationship with Chantry for granted, creating the emotional encouragement for her and Wallace to take every tentative next step.

Plenty of joy is derived from the instant chemistry between Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan, and both actors easily embrace their roles as slightly insecure but nevertheless willing partners in the quest for companionship. But while the script is mostly sharp and enjoys some genuinely funny exclamation points, passages of dialogue are obviously improvised, and these tend to be weak, often defaulting to unfunny and gross non-jokes about body functions. Also disappointing is the oh-so-predictable tiff Wallace and Chantry are forced to suffer through before finally sorting out their relationship.

Romantic comedies can receive big boosts from well-written supporting characters, and here a torrent of relationship cheerleading and jeering is added from the energetic sidelines. Chantry's cousin and Wallace's best friend Allan and his new girlfriend Nicole are interested observers when they are not sexually devouring each other; Chantry's sister Dalia is recovering from her own break-up and targeting Wallace as the perfect rebound; and Wallace's sister Tabby (Meghan Heffern), a single mom, leans on him for informative babysitting sessions.

The friendship prospects both jump to life and are threatened with evolution from the very first meeting between Wallace and Chantry. The F Word confirms the obvious, but with bittersweet congeniality.

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