IF (2024, dir. John Krasinski)

by | May 15, 2024

Certificate: U

Running Time: 104 mins

UK Distributor: Paramount

UK Release Date: 17 May 2024

WHO’S IN IF?

Cailey Fleming, Ryan Reynolds, John Krasinski, Fiona Shaw, Alan Kim, Liza Colón-Zayas, Bobby Moynihan, Steve Carell, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Louis Gossett Jr., Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Maya Rudolph, Jon Stewart, Sam Rockwell, Sebastian Maniscalco, Christopher Meloni, Richard Jenkins, Awkwafina, Blake Lively, George Clooney, Matthew Rhys, Bradley Cooper, Amy Schumer, Keegan-Michael Key, Vince Vaughn

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

John Krasinski (director, writer, producer), Andrew Form, Ryan Reynolds and Allyson Seeger (producers), Michael Giacchino (composer), Janusz Kaminski (cinematographer), Andy Canny and Christopher Rouse (editors)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A young girl (Fleming) develops the ability to see people’s imaginary friends…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON IF?

Imaginary friends have featured in many films, from Drop Dead Fred to Inside Out to as recently as the Blumhouse horror Imaginary, but writer-director John Krasinski’s IF might be one of the first to fully acknowledge that they are, surprisingly, just as important for grown-ups as they are for children. While it’s true that kids utilise them a lot more for their own adventures of make-believe, in turn helping to develop their overall character, adults need them for comfortable reminders of their childhood, ones that help to put them in a state of ease when facing many of life’s difficulties. If their imaginary friend could help them get through some tough times as kids, then what’s holding them back many years later?

Krasinski’s film is a gentle and wholesome exploration of that phenomenon, and while it’s not without its setbacks, particularly in its storytelling, IF should provide a warm enough centre for people of all ages to cuddle up to.

Set in New York, IF follows a 12-year-old girl named Bea (Cailey Fleming), who is staying with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw) while her father (Krasinski) is in the hospital awaiting heart surgery. Bea insists that she has grown out of her childhood activities, especially since the death of her mother, but soon she starts seeing strange creatures that nobody else can see, including a giant purple being named Blue (voiced by Steve Carell) and a butterfly ballerina with Max Fleischer cartoon eyes called Blossom (Phoebe Waller-Bridge).

The only other person who can see them is her upstairs neighbour Cal (Ryan Reynolds), who is the de facto guardian of a number of IFs – short for Imaginary Friends – who have been placed in an other-worldly retirement home after their kids grew up and forgot about them. Cal has developed a matchmaking service to pair the IFs with new kids, and Bea decides to help them out, discovering something meaningful along the way about the importance of imagination, including her own.

Presented like an episode of Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends if it were directed by the likes of Steven Spielberg – to where Spielberg’s regular cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, is also the director of photography on this film – IF wears its heartfelt whimsy like a badge of honour. As a director, Krasinski leans into the bright and colourful imagination of his core concept with an old-school mentality, one that adopts a fanciful tone where it often feels like the film is going to turn into a musical at any moment. It doesn’t, save for some Mandy Moore-choreographed dance sequences, though Krasinski’s playfulness is so apparent that it’s honestly a surprise that the characters don’t break out into all-out song and dance numbers. Nonetheless, Krasinski displays a lot of charm and filmmaking prowess in certain sequences, with a uncynical sincerity that shines through in a lot of other places on the screen.

However, Krasinski’s script is perhaps too light-hearted for its own good, as it often prevents the film from diving deep into any scenarios or developments that may challenge the viewer or even its own characters. The rather thin plot is largely free of conflict, right down to how there is no antagonistic threat whatsoever, while the overall stakes – particularly for the imaginary friends, who are never in any sort of danger, existential or otherwise, as a result of being forgotten by their kids – remain at a significant low. It also banks heavily on a twist that’s very easy to see coming, and it’s a mystery as to why it even bothers keeping it a twist until the closing minutes of the film.

On the one hand, it seems like Krasinski is aiming for a more disjointed narrative in the style of Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro, which similarly didn’t rely that heavily on a specific storytelling structure, and just let the charming characters and their child-friendly environment play out for as long as it needed to. The thing is, his script doesn’t have the same ability to truly transport the audience into a world that’s quite as magical or wondrous as its concept suggests, and that’s partially because there is very little to name about these characters and the obstacles that they face which the viewer can become emotionally invested in.

What IF has that just about makes up for its light script is a profound sense of goodness, along with an endearing message about embracing the memories of our own childhoods. Krasinski often comes off as a swell and good-natured guy in interviews and in just about any role he plays, from Jim Halpert to Jack Ryan, and that extends to the pleasant feeling which he goes out of his way to make the viewer feel throughout this film, even when a joke falls flat or when a character begins to outstay their welcome.

Endearing performances, particularly from the likes of Ryan Reynolds, Steve Carell (who fronts an exceptionally starry supporting voice cast that also includes George Clooney, Blake Lively, Matt Damon and even Krasinski’s own wife Emily Blunt) and impressive young actor Cailey Fleming, help to generate the appropriate emotions that Krasinski amplifies in his script and direction, despite their initial struggles.

Most of all, IF makes it abundantly clear that imagination doesn’t simply die out as soon as we grow out of childhood; it can be rediscovered, reshaped, and in some cases even recreated in ways that can genuinely help us evolve even further as adults. Krasinski conveys this heart-warming message with a nice sentimentality that may get too schmaltzy for some, but for others it may be the spark they need to get their own imaginations back on track, and that can only be a good thing in this dark and dreary reality of ours.

SO, TO SUM UP…

IF is an endearing family fantasy from writer-director John Krasinski that suffers from an overly light script that frees itself too liberally from storytelling structures and a sense of conflict, but its heartfelt goodness and charming sense of whimsy make it a pleasant enough watch for anyone wanting to lose themselves in their own imagination.

Three out of five stars

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