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‘IF’ Review: Ryan Reynolds Leads a John Krasinski-Directed Family Film That’s Easier to Admire Than Enjoy

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In the early scenes of his new fantasy film geared to families, John Krasinski is seen as a 12-year-old girl’s father who’s in the hospital preparing for what seems to be life-threatening heart surgery. To keep up his daughter’s spirits, he delivers elaborate jokes and comedy routines, leading her to complain that he needn’t bother, that she’s not a child anymore. In other words, she thinks he’s trying too hard, which is something you could also say about IF.

There’s no denying the ambition and thoughtfulness on display in this effort written and directed by Krasinski, which marks a notable stylistic turn from his smash hit horror films A Quiet Place and its sequel. IF, whose title means “Imaginary Friends,” aims for obvious laughs with its multitude of amusing computer-animated characters featuring all sorts of incarnations from teddy bears to melting marshmallows. But it also strains for deep emotion in its poignant depiction of children moving on from such invented creations, who, much like the plaything characters in Toy Story, are deeply saddened by their abandonment.

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IF

The Bottom Line A bit too calculated for its own good.

Release date: Friday, May 17
Cast: Cailey Fleming, Ryan Reynolds, John Krasinski, Fiona Shaw, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Louis Gossett Jr., Alan Kim, Liza Colon-Zayas, Steve Carell
Director-screenwriter: John Krasinski
Rated PG, 1 hour 44 minutes

It’s a delicate balancing act that Krasinski nearly but doesn’t quite pull off, resulting in a film plagued by significant tonal shifts and pacing issues. Not to mention a certain air of familiarity, thanks to its resemblance to numerous Pixar films and movies like A Monster Calls.

The story revolves around Bea (Cailey Fleming, The Walking Dead), who’s temporarily staying with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw) in her Brooklyn Heights brownstone apartment while her father (Krasinski) awaits his surgery. Having lost her mother to cancer when she was a little girl, Bea is naturally terrified of another loss, which no doubt leaves her emotionally open to encountering the IFs who start popping up in her orbit — including butterfly-like Blossom (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and lovable furry giant Blue (an endearing Steve Carell), who’s actually purple but was named by a color-blind child.

The connection between the imaginary friends turns out to be Cal (Ryan Reynolds), a cranky upstairs neighbor who seems to be the only other person who can see them. Cal introduces Bea to the world of IFs by taking her to their retirement home, which happens to be located in Coney Island right near the iconic Wonder Wheel and Cyclone rides. Filled with cast-off IFs who spend their days participating in such activities as group therapy and water aerobics, it’s presided over by elderly teddy bear Lewis (the late Louis Gossett Jr., delivering a lovely voice performance). Cal and Bea decide to try to help the IFs by attempting to reconnect them with the children they once befriended who are now grown-ups.

The care that Krasinski has put into the film is apparent on every level, beginning with the cute hand-painted Paramount logo seen during the opening credits. The IFs — voiced by a veritable who’s-who of Hollywood stars including Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Sam Rockwell, Blake Lively, George Clooney, Amy Schumer, Jon Stewart, Bradley Cooper, Keegan-Michael Key, Awkwafina, Sebastian Maniscalco, Maya Rudolph, and presumably everyone else in Krasinski’s contacts list — are consistently amusing and imaginative, even if most of them are seen too briefly to make much of an impression. There’s a terrific fantasy sequence (the whole film is a fantasy, but still), in which Bea puts Cal through a series of ordeals that feature visual references to everything from a Tina Turner music video to vintage Hollywood musicals. Clever touches abound, such as the grandmother falling asleep to the film Harvey, the grandfather of imaginary friend movies, on television.  

There’s also real cinematic craftsmanship on display in every aspect, from Janusz Kaminski’s elegant cinematography that gives the proceedings a warm, burnished glow to Michael Giacchino’s elegiac score that accentuates the story’s sadder elements without becoming too treacly. The performances are impeccable, with young Fleming anchoring the proceedings with real emotional depth and Reynolds displaying his trademark comedic chops without overdoing it.

But much of the slapstick involving the IFs feels generic. And when the film shifts into deeper emotional territory — with such plot elements as a reunion between insecure Blue and his former childhood friend (Bobby Moynihan), who’s now anxious while preparing for an important job interview; the grandmother reconnecting with her ballet-dancing past; and Bea’s efforts to match up a young boy in the hospital (Alan Kim of Minari, exuding cuteness) with an imaginary friend — it becomes strained in its attempted magic. The world-building, which includes the IFs beaming with a contented glow when they’re remembered by the children they loved, feels a bit ramshackle, as does the climactic twist involving one of the main characters.

Still, there’s much here to appreciate, not least of which is the admirable attempt to simultaneously provide belly laughs for children and emotional resonance for adults. IF may be guilty of trying too hard, but it’s a refreshing change from so many family movies that barely seem to be trying at all.   

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Hollywood Reporter Original Article

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