IF

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IF/Photo courtesy of PR

IF is full of warmth, a gentle film about love, loss, and the power of the imagination. Written and directed by John Krasinski, “IF” stands for imaginary friends, and the film’s premise is that every child has one, its shape and character crafted from the free-wheeling creativity of the child’s mind, always there to help when needed – until, of course the child grows up and forgets all about them. IF concerns itself with the plight of the forgotten imaginary friends, bereft of their beloved kid, wanting to be loved and needed once more. It’s a sweet, whimsical premise, and helping these imaginary creatures is a cause that can appeal to the child in everyone.

Cailey Fleming is precise and endearing as Bea, a 12-year-old just on the wavering border of childhood, eager to announce that she’s not a kid, and renounce childish pursuits, in the attempt to prove her maturity. Opening with a montage of the happy times Bea enjoyed with her parents – laughing, playing, dressing up in costumes and making art with lots of glitter, it’s apparent that those times were altered forever following the death of her mother, despite the fact that dad (John Krasinski) is determinedly goofy. Now that her father is about to undergo heart surgery, Bea will stay with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw) in New York, just as she did during the summer of her mother’s illness, reliving the fears and tensions of that time. Shaw is wonderful as the grandmother who is trying too hard to reassure Bea by masking her own concerns, talking too much, smiling too broadly, and making burnt pancakes. Less into drawing and more into exploring, Bea stumbles on mysterious residents of the apartment building, the cranky Cal (Ryan Reynolds) and his pals, who tell her about the IFs and explain that they are on a mission to help the IFs find new kids to love.

The IFs represent the colorful spectrum of kid’s creations – huge, purple Blue, delicate Blossom with her Betty-Boop wide-eyed look, wise old Teddy bear Lewis (Louis Gossett Jr.), a giant red gummy bear (Amy Schumer), Cosmo the top-secret agent (Christopher Meloni) who appears out of nowhere, the somewhat-expected yet no less cute rainbow unicorn (Emily Blunt); and weird ones, like the ice cube in a glass of water wearing red sneakers (Bradley Cooper). Some of my favorites were the green slime (Keegan-Michael Key) and the art teacher, who took the form of a wooden model (Richard Jenkins). As Bea takes on the task of helping Cal and crew, there are some beautiful and spectacular moments, from small touches, like Grandmother asleep while Harvey (1950) is on the television, to the wild whirl through the Memory Lane retirement home, and the magical moments as Grandmother (Fiona Shaw is magnificent!) recalls her dream of becoming a dancer, and her IF dances along, glowing. However, the film does not feel tightly crafted, and the lacunae dim the effect of the magic.

Bea has a lot of freedom to wander around New York alone, which feels odd given the circumstances and the fact that she doesn’t usually live there. Isn’t Grandmother worried? Some plot lines feel like an idea popped up and then was never thoroughly developed, like Benjamin (Alan Kim), the admittedly very cute kid Bea meets in the hospital. She chats with him one day, then the next day she visits his room and he’s not there – which felt ominous to me, but nothing happens with that – on the next occasion he’s back and cheerful as ever despite a broken arm and leg. Also – spoiler alert – part of the premise is that once a kid has grown up and forgotten about their imaginary friend, they can no longer see that friend. Bea can see the IFs (even if she’s forgotten her own), and I’m willing to accept that, as expressing her connection to the imagination of her childhood, but then why does Cal appear to be just another ordinary, if ornery, guy? Can IFs change their form?

Yet despite these weak points, IF is an enjoyable film. Overall, IF has the same magical effect as a child’s drawing: the lines may be wobbly, the colors and proportions strange, but somehow, it fills your heart with warmth.   

IF

Written and directed by John Krasinski; Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski; Editors: Andy Canny, Christopher Rouse; Music: Michael Giacchino; Cast: Cailey Fleming, Ryan Reynolds, John Krasinski, Fiona Shaw, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Louis Gossett Jr., Alan Kim, Liza Colón-Zayas, Steve Carell

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