22 May 2024

Review: IF

From At The Movies, 7:06 pm on 22 May 2024

The new family comedy IF – it stands for “Imaginary Friend”, by the way, nothing to do with Lindsay Anderson’s riotous 60s public school satire – is advertised as coming “from the mind of John Krasinski”, which may be a bit premature.

Krasinski is a likable actor – notably in the American version of The Office – and director – the sci-fi thriller series A Quiet Place with his wife Emily Blunt. But that doesn’t make him a genius auteur quite yet.

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Photo: Supplied

IF attempts that deceptively tricky task – a kids story with something for the whole family.   This is the land of The Wizard of Oz and Roald Dahl, of Pixar animation and early Walt Disney. 

It opens on a 12-year-old girl called Bee, who’s having a bad time.

Bee’s mother has recently died. Her father is in hospital waiting for serious surgery.  She’s staying with her worried grandma in a spooky old house….   Wait, I thought this was going to be sunny escapism featuring cute, wacky cartoon characters?

Clearly the publicity department of IF had the same concerns, since most of the trailers brush all this stuff under the carpet in favour of wild and crazy Ryan Reynolds.

He plays Cal, a sort of middle-man between our heroine Bee and the wonderful world of Imaginary Friends. IFs like Blue, who’s actually purple.

Bee is uniquely able to see all these displaced IFs – the imaginary friends of children who’ve outgrown them, and who now have nowhere to go.

There’s some irony in this, since there’s a strong suspicion this is the case with the story of IF too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Initially, the plot commutes between Bee’s visits to the hospital and her lovable dad – played by Krasinski himself – and her life in the fantasy world of IFs. But the IFs eventually start taking over.

This despite the fact that IF is a little unclear what to do with a bunch of out-of-work fantasy characters.  Do you assign them to new kids, or do you find the child within their former owners?

Still, it can’t be denied they’re an overpowering mob. The voice-cast list alone is astonishing, reflecting the fact that voice-over work on a big-budget animation film is a pretty easy gig.    Remember Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?  

Aside from Steve Carell as Blue, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a ballet dancer called Blossom, the voices include Matt Damon, Bradley Cooper, Maya Randolph, Sam Rockwell and John Stewart - not mention the wives of Reynolds and Krasinski, Blake Lively and Emily Blunt.

And – again like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – it’s a total waste since none of them are remotely recognizable.

Still, it’s clear that everyone’s having a wonderful time telling, they think, a tale of ‘Pure Imagination’, as they say.  

But as I say, these things aren’t as easy to pull off as would-be Hollywood storytellers like to think. Fairytales famously take years to shake down into something that makes sense.

For all the hard work put in by writer-director Krasinski, and Ryan Reynolds, Fiona Shaw as Bee’s grandmother - and particularly young Cailey Fleming as Bee, who’s utterly charming - IF is only so-so.  

A live-action Pixar film may be the intention. But Pixar isn’t just cute pictures. At the centre of the Toy Story series, of Monsters Inc and Inside Out – all of which plough the same ground as IF - is a rock-solid structure.  

We know who the characters are, we know what they want, we’re surprised and delighted by the ending.

IF is chock-full of colourful design, attractive performances, some good ideas and the best will in the world.  

But its faults are also baked into the premise – these are imaginary friends with nowhere much to go. All these wonderful bits needed to be matched to a good movie.

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