IF review take one…

IF, written and directed by John Krasinski, is a sweet film aimed at kids with enough jokes the adults will understand to make it tolerable family viewing. Cailey Fleming stars as Bea, who has already lost one parent and is faced with losing the other, and Ryan Reynolds stars as Calvin, her harried, mysterious upstairs neighbor. Bea “isn’t a kid”, has clearly been forced to grow up too fast by grief, but thanks to Calvin and his troop of displaced IFs, or “imaginary friends”, Bea learns to embrace her imagination, rediscover her joy, and reconnect with her dad (played by John Krasinski, doing triple duty). 


There’s a dance number, a kind but flighty grandmother (Fiona Shaw), a wise old teddy bear (Louis Gossett, Jr.), and a message about emotions and imagination that might help kids cope with their big feelings during trying times. It’s a film that celebrates the power of imagination, the specialness of childhood, and Ryan Reynolds is a rare actor who can be mean to kids on screen and not damage his charisma. IF looks good, feels good, and is, mostly, fine. You’d have to be a real asshole to dislike IF, a movie made for children about the wonder of childhood.

IF review take two…

IF, written and directed by John Krasinski, is an emotionally manipulative sugar packet of a film starring Ryan Reynolds and Cailey Fleming. Reynolds stars as Calvin, a bitter adult burdened with displaced IFs, imaginary friends whose kids have outgrown them, leaving them nowhere to go. Fleming stars as Bea, a kid who’s in the dumps because her dad is sick, and she already has a dead Disney mom. Despite her fierce frown and insistence that she’s “not a kid”, you can tell Bea is still quirky because she wears suspenders and clashing patterns. When she discovers Calvin and his IFs living upstairs from her inattentive-to-the-point-of-neglectful grandmother (Fiona Shaw), Bea finds a new purpose in helping the IFs find new kids to partner with.


The voice cast is stacked with people who owe Krasinski favors, including Steve Carell as Blue, a giant furry IF that is not NOT a Sully from Monsters, Inc. knock-off. In fact, the whole film is not NOT a Pixar knock-off, from the Up-esque opening sequence to the many colorful IFs, to the dance number—mediocrely lensed by Krasinski and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski—to Michael Giacchino’s overbearingly twee score. IF feels like Krasinski said, “The Bing Bong part of Inside Out, but make it live action.” 


To his credit, the many IFs are varying degrees of cute and clever—I liked Cloak & Dagger best—and each one is voiced by an extremely famous person, even Keith, the invisible IF, which is credited to Brad Pitt (blatantly riding Reynolds’ Deadpool coattails). But despite the breadth of characters, the IFs don’t really adventure with Bea. For a film about the scope and escape of imagination, IF feels weirdly small. Perhaps it’s a budget limitation, since the IFs are all animated, but all that really tells me is that Krasinski couldn’t figure out how to make his idea work on…$110 million. For that, he really should have been able to do more with this concept, but it’s strangely inert for a film about imagination.


While I recognize that IF is cute and boppy enough to entertain kids for just under two hours, I can’t get on board with it because of how flat it feels despite its big ideas. Cailey Fleming is delightful, and her chemistry with Reynolds is winsome as hell, I just wish more of the IFs were involved in more of the story, that it actually is as everything-possible as the films tells you it is. I couldn’t help but compare IF to David Lowery’s excellent remake of Pete’s Dragon, which is also about kids and grief and imagination, and a film that is full of thrilling wonder and possibility from start to finish. 


It feels like John Krasinski genuinely wanted to make something that captures the unique moment in childhood when imaginative play is still magical, while still acknowledging that sometimes kids go through scary and hard things. He’s reaching for the whimsy and melancholy of films like, well, Pete’s Dragon, The Bridge to Terabithia, or The Last Unicorn, but his own imagination falls short. His imagined world feels small and limited, the IFs are treated mostly as jokes and not characters on their own journeys. The best Pixar movies understand that even the smallest characters are starring in their own film, which is why those worlds feel so full and limitless. IF, though, feels half-baked, and too cute by the other half. It’s cloying and saccharine and shamelessly punching the Pixar button to mimic real emotion. And yes, I am a Grinch whose heart did not grow three sizes that day. Why do you ask?

IF is now playing exclusively in theaters.