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IF Film Review: Creativity Rules, Even If It’s Messy

A man, a girl, and a bear lean on a desk looking at the camera in the film IF

John Krasinski’s IF can be tonally and narratively disjointed, but its heart is in the right place and it delivers an earnest feel through its young star Cailey Fleming.

Director: John Krasinski
Genre: Comedy, Action
Run Time: 144′
Global Release: May 17, 2024
Where to watch: in theaters

Seeing John Krasinski tackle a family friendly movie as his third film behind the camera, following his two outings in the horror/sci-fi genre with the A Quiet Place series, seemed odd on paper. Given his background in comedy, not only does it make perfect sense, but it is nice to see an actor-turn-director challenge himself by not putting himself in a box.

Is IF a homerun like his previous endeavors in horror, though?

Short for imaginary friends, IF tells the journey of Bea (Cailey Fleming, The Walking Dead) as she discovers she can see everyone’s imaginary friends. With the help of Cal (Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool), who can mysteriously see them too, Bea embarks on a magical adventure to reconnect forgotten IFs with their kids who are now all grown up.

Watching IF, you can feel Krasinski’s passion for sharing this story. There are well-crafted moments that don’t necessarily push Krasisnki’s skills as a filmmaker, but the simplicity of those scenes is what pulls at your heartstrings and makes them memorable in the first place. There are two standout sequences starring Fiona Shaw (True Detective) and Bobby Moynihan (Unfrosted), showing them reconnecting with what made them happy as children. Could these moments be considered emotionally manipulative? Sure, but they’re executed so well that you almost forgive the film for constantly wanting to make you tear up.

The film’s overall theme of holding on to your child-like curiosity would not work if it weren’t for Fleming as Bea. The young actress’ ability to balance the hardships of being forced to grow up while fighting to retain some sort of childhood innocence will resonate with older moviegoers. Her skills as a performer of her age are particularly impressive when you consider she’s interacting with CGI characters more than 50% of the time.

When it comes to the IFs themselves, they’re hit or miss. Blue – the big, purple fluffy creature voiced by Steve Carell (Asteroid City) – walks the line between being a tad obnoxious and adorable. This is due to how he’s written, as it feels like he’s exclusively targeted at children out of the set of IFs. Carell does a solid job injecting personality and charm to the role, portraying Blue like an excited shelter puppy eager to go with a new owner.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s (Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny) Blossom, a humanoid butterfly who loves ballet, is the highlight for me due to the gentle, motherly sense of wisdom she brings to the role. Her scene where she reconnects with her now adult kid is the best the film has to offer both visually and thematically. As for the rest, they all get a joke or two to leave an impact. Their designs can be creative, though I wouldn’t be able to tell you who voices who.

Imaginary friends dance on a colorful dance floor in the film IF
L-r, George Clooney (Spaceman), Amy Schumer (Gummy Bear), Emily Blunt (Unicorn), Steve Carell (Blue), Flower, Cailey Fleming (Bea), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Blossom), Richard Jenkins (Art Teacher) and Maya Rudolph (Ally) star in Paramount Pictures’ “IF.” (Paramount Pictures)

We must address the biggest name attached to the movie: Ryan Reynolds. A lot of criticism has been directed at him on the internet in recent years for essentially playing himself in his most recent body of work, most notable since 2016’s Deadpool. Part of the criticisms, I think, comes from a place of wanting Reynolds to play more serious roles and get lost in a character. While IF isn’t that movie, Krasinski does get occasional heartfelt moments from the actor. You buy his tender relationship with the IFs and Bea. The problem comes when he’s doing his usual schtick. It works better than in other projects, but his goofy shenanigans come as a distraction when he’s supposed to be the straight man in this comedic duo.

Sticking with Reynolds, I believe he’s the perfect embodiment of IF’s emotional core coming into conflict with its structural issues, making the film feel disjointed. In theory, this seems like a movie you take your kids to on a weekend so they can sit down for two hours in silence. Yet, rather quickly, you notice how heavy some of its ideas of adulthood are, and this clashes with the movie’s lighter tone.

That’s not to say that both tones can’t coexist. Several Pixar films do this flawlessly. They give both adults and kids things to gravitate towards, and IF is trying to do the same but only gets there halfway. One second, you’d have a dance number with Bea and the IFs. The next you have characters discussing the meaning of life with little to no tonal transition. Instead of being profound, which is what it feels like it wants to be, it can be a little jarring.

Krasinski’s script is all over the place. The world-building is vague at best, despite the movie spending plenty of time explaining it, and only leaves us with more questions. Our protagonist is intrigued by how the IFs’ environment works and almost immediately becomes an expert on the subject matter. These criticisms could be nitpicking, and in a way, they are, given that this is a family movie and its main goal is to entertain. For what is worth, these problems don’t stop IF from being engaging through its more emotional beats. It’s just that a polished version of the film is hidden somewhere in its messy structure, and you can’t help it but wish you were watching that version.

IF is a perfectly fine time at the movie theater. You’d have to judge whether its tonal and narrative problems break the film for you or not. Issues aside, it’s admirable to see a filmmaker with Krasinski’s status attempt to construct a project about the importance of creativity and holding on to it even when the world around us tries to rip it away from you. In the age of artists fighting to keep their jobs amidst AI, stories like these can be quite meaningful. It’s a messy attempt, but an admirable one that still manages to leave you with an optimistic look at life, hardships and all.

IF will be released globally in theaters on May 17, 2024.

IF: Trailer (Paramount Pictures)
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