review

IF movie review: John Krasinski’s family movie is cute and desperate to be liked

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
L-R, Ryan Reynolds (Cal), Cailey Fleming (Bea), Steve Carell (Blue) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Blossom) star in Paramount Pictures' "IF."
L-R, Ryan Reynolds (Cal), Cailey Fleming (Bea), Steve Carell (Blue) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Blossom) star in Paramount Pictures' "IF." Credit: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Paramount Pictures

If you had to conceive of a pack of imaginary friends, creatures and beings that children would come up with, what would they look like?

They’d be cute, colourful and desperate to be liked. Especially the ones in actor, writer and director John Krasinski’s new movie, IF, which stands for, you guessed it, imaginary friends.

Cute, colourful and desperate to be liked is also an apt description for IF, a tender-hearted, very earnest and sentimental film – and a very, very different family movie from Krasinski’s last release, A Quiet Place Part II, which is really more a movie about a family.

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IF stars Ryan Reynolds, Cailey Fleming, Fiona Shaw and Alan Kim, with a slew of voice performances from the likes of Steve Carell, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, John Stewart, George Clooney, Awkwafina, Maya Rudolph, Amy Schumer, Christopher Meloni, Bradley Cooper and Sam Rockwell.

That’s the thing about being a big-time Hollywood star, when you make a kids’ movie, you can call all your famous friends to record a quick voice role. It probably takes them about two or three hours and you get to put their names on the poster.

Ryan Reynolds and Cailey Fleming star in Paramount Pictures' "IF."
Ryan Reynolds and Cailey Fleming as the live-action characters in IF. Credit: Photo Credit: Jonny Cournoyer/Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount

The story is about Bea (Fleming), a 12-year-old girl who years earlier lost her mother to illness, so when her father (Krasinski) is in hospital for heart surgery. She’s trying to be grown-up about it and goes to stay with her grandmother (Shaw).

On the top floor of her gran’s apartment building, a beautiful old brownstone in New York City’s Brooklyn Heights neighbourhood, lives a man named Cal (Reynolds). He’s a former clown who keeps company with two imaginary friends who have been forgotten by the kids who dreamt them up – Blue (Carell), a big, Grimace-like furry creature and Blossom (Waller-Bridge), a humanish-butterfly hybrid.

Bea is surprised to discover the existence of imaginary friends and she and Cal set out to reunite a whole gang of imaginary friends with their former charges, including an ice cube suspended in a glass of water (Cooper), a magician mouse (Sebastian Maniscalco), a unicorn (Blunt) and an astronaut (Clooney).

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.
IF is bright, colourful and desperate to be liked. Credit: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Paramount Pictures

Bright, imaginative and visually charming (the movie is lensed by Steven Spielberg’s frequent cinematographer Janusz Kaminski), with wonderful creature designs, IF wears its very big heart on its sleeve.

Bea is going through a tough time but she won’t allow herself to feel it. IF is about giving yourself that permission, and rediscovering unbridled fun, possibilities and the power of a good story.

But as much as it looks great (there’s a trippy sequence in a retirement home for IFs) and there are genuinely moving moments that are both sad and triumphant and might make you cry (a sequence involving an anxiety ridden adult played by Bobby Moynihan), once you start interrogating the strength of the film, it feels a little thin. It’s not as developed as A Quiet Place.

IF struggles to flesh out a full feature from a neat concept that would’ve made for a great short film. It’s a movie that plays well in the moment and one which tries its darnedest to be charming, but buckles if you think about it too hard.

Rating: 3/5

IF is in cinemas now

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