A giant purple furry created looks at a young girl in the background. A man in suspenders looks at someone off screen in the foreground. They all stand in a library.

Film Review: IF

Film Reviews

Director: John Krasinski

Sunday Night Productions and Maximum Effort
In Theaters 05.17

An impressive feature debut is enough to establish promise as a storyteller, as A Quiet Place did with actor-turned-writer/director John Krasinski. In order to cement one’s status as a truly good filmmaker, you need to be able to do it again and hopefully show some versatility. A such, IF is a significant moment in Krasinski’s career.

12-year-old Bea (Cailey Fleming, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) had to grow up a bit early after losing her mother to a terminal illness, though her Dad (played by Krasinski) has made it his mission to keep her from feeling that way. When Dad ends up in the hospital for a heart surgery, Bea has to go live with her Grandmother (Fiona Shaw, Harry Potter, Andor) in Brooklyn Heights. It’s there that Bea discovers Calvin (Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool, Free Guy), a mysterious man who lives in the apartment upstairs. Calvin and Bea share the ability to see everyone’s imaginary friends (or “IFs”), who can take any form, ranging from a giant purple monster to a butterfly or a glass of ice water. Calvin is tasked with matching forgotten IFs, who reside in a retirement home in Coney Island, with new kids. Bea finds herself being pulled into this wacky and whimsical world, as the initially aloof Calvin begins to see that she just might be the key to reuniting the old IFs with the now-grown-up children who created them.

IF is a touching and highly entertaining tale about growing up and fighting loneliness, despair and the need to not only be able to turn to someone for support, but the ability to find that person inside yourself. Krasinski approaches the film as a fable and one told largely from a child’s perspective, which is quite effective in establishing the world in which the IFs reside, and infuses it with a sense of childlike wonder and endless imagination mixed with the melancholy of adolescence. This world and the characters who reside in it are so charming that I found myself completely immersed in this endearing movie, and as someone who has carried various forms of imaginary friends with me my whole life, I found it to be remarkably relatable, even beautiful. There are, however, some story problems that grow out of the child’s eye approach: the details of Dad’s heart condition are left deliberately vague and there are frustrating contradictions in this portrayal. It’s serious enough to keep him in the hospital for an extended stay, yet we never see him in a hospital gown or in bed until after the surgery, and even then, he’s not hooked up to much of anything. While the choice is motivated by portraying his obsessive need to try to shelter Bea from further pain or fear, it strains credibility and feels more than a bit sloppy. There’s also a significant plot twist that, while it worked for me, is undeniably derivative in its execution and conception. These flaws may be too overpowering for some, but the fact of the matter is that I found the movie to be far too lovable and diverting to care too much, and was swept up by it as a delightful and moving experience.

Fleming is terrific in the role of Bea, mixing the adorable appeal of her wide-eyed youth with a maturity beyond her years, and it promises to be a breakthrough role. Reynolds is perfectly cast as a wisecracking goofball who is masking a hidden pain and Krasinski is irresistibly lovable as a devoted and affectionate father. The voice cast is pure perfection. These include Krasinski’s fellow The Office alumni Steve Carell, as Blue, a giant furry purple creature (his kid was color blind), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny) as Blossom the butterfly and the late Louis Gossett, Jr (An Officer and a Gentleman) as Louis, a 93-year old teddy bear. The menagerie of IFs is a who’s who of Hollywood stars who are having blast, though I was surprised that many of the most memorable performances came from actors portraying the grown-up kids, with Saturday Day Night Live’s Bobby Moynihan as perhaps the most notable. 

IF is reaching very high, mixing the feel of a Pixar film with a heavy Spielbergian influence. More so than the rather straightforward A Quiet Place, its ambitions are so high that there are moments when its reach may exceed its grasp. Still, I found it to be a thoroughly enchanting experience that brought me back to my childhood, even as it made me recognize how much I’ve grown up and, for me, it establishes Krasinski as an exciting auteur who is overflowing with creativity and heart. – Patrick Gibbs

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