IF (2024)

IF Review


Release date: May 17, 2024 (USA)
Director: John Krasinski
Budget: 110 million USD
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Cinematography: Janusz Kamiński
Edited by: Christopher Rouse; Andy Canny

If by chance you find yourself at a pre-release showing of “IF,” the new movie from John Krasinski, you might be introduced to the film by the writer-director himself, who will say it’s made for all the “girl dads” out there. Having now seen it, I can confirm that’s true: While billed as family-friendly, “IF” is less for kids than for the parents of kids — those girl dads — who want something a little more grown-up than “Minions” but won’t send their children running in fear. No; it might just bore them to tears.

This is an audacious move for Krasinski, who has already gone from sitcom star to successful horror director with the “Quiet Place” movies; and yet, when you look at him, it makes perfect sense. This is the guy who started a little feel-good news show from his house during the pandemic (which he then sold to ViacomCBS for what can only be assumed was a metric [family publication]-ton of money), after all. He’s the kind of all-American aw-shucks new dad who dipped his toe into horror and now wants to make something fun that his kids can watch.

The result plays like a half-baked live-action Pixar movie adaptation, with an IF world structure à la “Monsters Inc.” and dramedic coming-of-age tales à la “Inside Out” and “Up.” The opening credits even nod at “Up,” playing gauzy home movies of what we are led to believe are taken on a DV camera (but actually look suspiciously like grainy professional stock) of life with Krazinski as Papa Bird in his family’s nest. And when films use this device — only one thing comes — death. Twice: We learn upon catching up with Krasinski’s daughter Bea (Cailey Fleming) that she is still grieving over her mother, who died off-screen some time ago; now her father is in the hospital awaiting surgery for his heart. (We never learn what exactly is wrong with it; he just says he has a “broken heart,” which is a neat descriptor of the film’s simplicity and saccharine nature.) It clearly eats at her — though that doesn’t stop Krasinski from popping into the hospital room with a zany attempt to cheer her up.

In the meantime, Bea stays with her equally effervescent grandmother (Fiona Shaw, one of the film’s bright spots) in her old, creaky apartment building. It’s there that she suddenly develops an ability to see people’s imaginary friends (or IFs, as the movie proudly calls them) and gets swept up in an adventure involving her grandmother’s downstairs neighbor Calvin (Ryan Reynolds), a jaded IF whisperer. You see, he has been running a sort of match-making service for IFs whose kids have stopped believing in them; once they do, you’re usually sent out to pasture at a pastel retirement home. Bea sets about helping Calvin save the IFs by giving them someone to believe in them — mostly because she is bored and wants something to do.

That is the flimsy structure on which Krasinski hangs his paper-thin script, one that waves vaguely towards a kind of mechanical worldbuilding and then throws up its hands to pursue one heartstring after another. For a kid’s adventure, it’s surprisingly dour and sentimental, trading laugh-out-loud jokes for a patient sense of melancholy — which may well work for all the young dads in the audience, but seems like it’d bore kids to tears.

In its early stretches, Krasinski uses the suspenseful eye he developed during “A Quiet Place” to fascinating kid-horror effect: Janusz Kaminski shoots grandma’s apartment building as if it were the Overlook Hotel, and a spooky moment involves seeing from a kid’s-eye view just how creepy it can be when there’s an old woman grinning at you from down the hall. There’s something here of Guillermo del Toro’s more sentimental work as well, building a world where imagination can be just as much a threat as comfort.

But then we hit the IFs and their dilemma, where most of “IF” loses steam. The creatures themselves are hardly anything to write home about; they take whatever form their kids conceived them in — fire-breathing dragons or walking talking self-roasting marshmallows — voiced by a murderer’s row of “that guy” guest voices that’ll send you reaching for your phone to pull up IMDb right after.

They’re technically impressive but characterless and bereft of whimsy; this is especially true of Carell’s Blue (a purple snaggle-toothed furball who looks like Grimace subjected to years of British dentistry), who Carell plays not with any kind of arched eyebrow but with uncharacteristic straight-man workmanlike-ness that feels like such a shame given the verbal dexterity he brings to wild animated characters like Gru.

The human cast doesn’t fare much better; Reynolds especially coasts through this thing with the half-heartedness of someone sick of repeating the same Deadpool schtick. It almost feels redundant to cast him here since he functions as a kind of stand-in for Krasinski as the “fun dad” he’s always wanted to be; Calvin mostly exists as a smarmy sidekick, a fellow cynic who nonetheless helps the IFs on their mission. And then there’s Fleming herself, a waifish young girl who rises to the occasion in a few Big Moments near the end but largely gets little to do besides pout and absorb information.

The mechanics of the IFs also beggar belief and change on a dime depending on which lazy heartstring Krasinski wants to pull next: Do they disappear once forgotten about, or are they put in a home? Is the plan to rehome them to new kids, or get their now-grown adult companions to believe in them again? What’s the plan from there? All immaterial questions for the presumed kiddie audience, but it’s easy to get lost in all that shoddy mechanics when the thing is so listless and humorless as is. By its end, you get the feeling that all this sturm und drang is in service of stakes that — all told — are exceedingly minimal.

Occasionally Krasinski does land on a neat idea or a perfect scene: a kaleidoscopic chase through an IF retirement home that Bea is transforming with her thoughts (complete with Busby Berkeley riffs and Reynolds crawling out of an oil painting); Shaw’s character remembering her love of ballet while her former IF (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) dances alongside just out of sight. But for every one of these, there’s another tired scene with half-hearted performers dutifully stating the plot, or trotting out cloying platitudes like “The most important stories we tell are the ones we tell ourselves.” And don’t get me started on this movie’s musical choices — it’s got one song too many, and the last one is so on-the-nose, Wes Anderson should sue for plagiarism.

“IF” is a well-meaning misfire — a kids’ movie without laughs and a parents’ movie without anything else. I really hope Krasinski had fun making it; it seemed like such a welcome palate-cleanser after doing two horror movies in a row. But now it’s time to put away childish things.

Watch If For Free On Gomovies.

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