Confession time: I haven’t read the Harry Potter books, nor have I seen the movies.

Wait, that’s not entirely accurate: I saw the very first one when it came out, during a trip to Amsterdam. We had just been to a coffeeshop, it started raining, and it was the only movie showing at the multiplex that we hadn’t already seen, so we decided it might be fun to try and learn some basic dutch by reading the subtitles. Needless to say, all I remember from that experience was laughing my butt off.

All this is by way of saying that I’ve never been a huge fan of Daniel Radcliffe. I was never too fond of Zoe Kazan either, for no good reason other than I haven’t really seen her in a major role. I’ve always thought that she looks like the girl directors would cast as the lead’s quirky friend, not the lead herself.

After this long and very biased disclaimer, it’s fair to say I didn’t have too many expectations of this movie. I had run out of good rom-coms (and would appreciate any suggestions, really) and was scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of highly recommended ones, so it was a toss-up between What If and Love, Rosie, both of which apparently have similar plots.

What If won, and it was a pleasant surprise all around. Don’t you just love it when that happens?

The story centers around two twenty somethings who meet at a party and instantly form a connection: Wallace, a med-school drop out working a boring cubicle job, who’s pretty much given up on relationships since his ex broke his heart and had to move in at his sister’s attic, and Chantry, a less-than-ambitious animator, who lives with her much more ambitious lawyer boyfriend of 5 years.

The rest of the cast is comprised by Chantry’s slutty sister, Dalia, Wallace’s oddball best friend Allan and his equally weird girlfriend Nicole. By the way, as much as I’ve learned to appreciate Adam Driver (Allan) since my initial dislike for his character on Girls, I find it very frustrating that he is always pretty much playing the same role in everything I’ve seen him in.

Anyway, Wallace is immediately smitten with Chantry when he meets her at the party, but his hopes get promptly squashed when he walks her home to her and her boyfriend’s place. Upon his return home, he climbs onto the roof and, in typical guy behavior, tosses the piece of paper Chantry had given his her number on. What is it with guys just dismissing any type of platonic relationship with a girl they’re attracted to? Chantry’s rant later in the movie was totally on point – although I suppose I can empathize with the awkwardness (and anguish, I’m guessing?) involved in trying to be friends with someone you have feelings for.

what if

Although definitely not original in terms of plot, the movie is different enough to stand out in its subgenre. The dialogue isn’t too cheesy, and it feels real enough to not make you want to exclaim ‘yeah, right‘ and roll your eyes every time someone delivers a line. The Toronto setting is a nice change of scene from the usual NYC/LA locations invariably used in most rom-coms, and I really enjoyed Allan and Nicole’s engagement party/impromptu wedding, which pleasantly veers away from the usual, drawn-out wedding preparations montage.  Chantry’s drawings/animations, randomly thrown in at various moments throughout the movie, are a bit too much on the cutesy side, but the overall cheese factor isn’t high enough to make this a turn-off.

The most enjoyable aspect, however, was the focal relationship itself. The attraction and sexual tension between Wallace and Chantry is subtly hinted at throughout the movie, and the protagonists are both ‘normal’ enough to not be pigeonholed as the geeky guy, the girl next door, a couple of hipsters or whatever other stereotype most films tend to use. Although not very quotable, their understanding of their feelings are they explore their relationship (and the little gems of wisdom offered as advice by their best friends) make the characters much more relatable and realistic.

It’s also refreshing to see that when Chantry finally acknowledges her feelings for Wallace, it’s not after some big relationship drama; Ben didn’t cheat on her while working overseas, she didn’t cheat on him out of loneliness or insecurity. Sometimes relationships just fall apart because you realize you’re dating the person you’re actually supposed to be with, and you don’t need drama as a plot device to make this revelation interesting.

At the end of the day, it’s a lovely, sweet movie, the performances are understated and the love factor isn’t shoved down our throats, which makes it a win in my book.