One of the highlights of the summer movie season for me this year was getting a sneak preview a couple of weeks ago of director Michael Dowse’s The F Word, an irreverent rom-com featuring plenty of comedic charm, a witty script, and a fresh new take on the familiar tale of “will they/won’t they”. The “F” word in question is “Friends” and when it comes to matters of the heart that can be the dirtiest word of all. Early on in its run, the TV show Friends cautioned us about being in “the friend zone” – once we’re in said zone, conventional wisdom, pop culture, and in some cases, personal experience all teach us it is fixed and unyielding. That without an initial spark or attraction, we are “doomed” to languish in friendship for all eternity. Wait… why is that bad, exactly?
In the case of The F Word (titled What If in the US and Britain), that spark IS present for our star-crossed couple from the first moment Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan) meet making their budding friendship a bit more complicated. They exchange witty, mildly flirtatious banter at a party and clearly have a lot in common. When he walks her home at the end of the evening he learns she has a boyfriend. A successful, charming, good-looking, longterm boyfriend, played with understated appeal by Rafe Spall (Life of Pi).
The scene where Chantry drops the “F-bomb” on Wallace’s hopes is both endearing and cringe-worthy. In one of the film’s most painful, funny, and infinitely relatable moments supplied by Elan Mastai’s well-conceived and truthful script, she offers an overly casual, conversational “my boyfriend will be worried about what happened to me”. It’s played perfectly by both Radcliffe and Kazan – Wallace is visibly torn between his tangible disappointment and trying to play it super cool. This moment, which happens fairly early on in the movie, totally sells me on Daniel Radcliffe as a romantic lead.
My absolute favourite rom-com of all time, When Harry Met Sally (now <gulp> 25 years old), definitively proved that “men and women can’t be friends.” Harry (Billy Crystal) tells us unequivocally that even when both people are with significant others, the friendship doesn’t stand a chance because “the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story”. Fortunately, The F Word considers that just the beginning. Dowse’s and Mastai’s hands, we get a glimpse of the cost of this kind of friendship, not just from the point of view of the piner (i.e. the standard perspective for unrequited love), but also from the point of view of the pined for. The F Word pays respectful homage to rom-com royalty (down to an important diner scenes and late-night phone calls) but without ever feeling derivative. It maintains a fresh, authentic spin on the theme for a new dating generation.
So clearly, I’m a fan of this movie. Here are some other reasons to see it:
- The characters. Radcliffe’s Wallace is a decent but somewhat unremarkable guy stuck smack in the middle of romance and cynicism; Kazan’s Chantry is quirky, intelligent, and delightful; and best of all (in my opinion) Ben, Chantry’s boyfriend, is a nice guy. Why is that significant, you may ask? Because all too often in the romantic comedy genre, the audience is hit over the head with a hammer regarding who we’re supposed to root for – The F Word adeptly avoids this cliché and points instead to the messy, complicated aspects of love and relationships. Chantry is happy with her boyfriend, although after being together for 5 years and faced with complicated decisions about their future together, their connection looks quite different than the growing attraction between her and Wallace.
- The soundtrack. A.C. Newman’s (of the Vancouver band The New Pornographers) score coupled with songs by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Patrick Watson, Marsha Hunt, and the Parting Gifts help set just the right mood and energy to carry us through the hip, urban landscape, which leads me to…
- Toronto. And it’s Toronto as Toronto! Not Toronto substituting as some other named or generic East Coast city. It’s filmed and set in Toronto, which has its own personality and energy for the characters to play off of.
- The animation. Chantry works as an animator and we get to see glimpses of what’s happening in her head through whimsical and visually stunning animation sequences.
- Adam Driver’s (This is Where I Leave You) scene-stealing antics as Wallace’s roommate/best friend who serves as both a voice of reason and comic relief.
So if you didn’t get out to The F Word on its opening weekend – go now. Yes, right now. Hopefully now playing in a theatre near you! If you need more incentive, check out the trailer.