There are mainstream romantic comedies and then there are "alternative" romantic comedies like "What If." In the latter, the characters tend to be young, hip, professionally creative (no lawyers, please) and emotionally connected to music. Underneath all that, though, the two genres are the same: There's always a boy, a girl and love.
That last part is missing in "What If." There's an attraction, certainly, between Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe), a med-school dropout recovering from a break-up, and Chantry (Zoe Kazan), an animator chugging along in a stable relationship with Ben, a lawyer (uh-oh). When Wallace meets Chantry at a party, sparks fly and numbers are exchanged, but both decide that friendship will have to be enough.
That yearning premise has potential, and "What If" has the added appeal of a young, buzz-worthy cast. Radcliffe sheds his Harry Potterisms in favor of Hugh Grantisms, while Kazan ("Ruby Sparks") is the very definition of the word "fetching" -- all big blue eyes and vintage coats. Adam Driver (HBO's "Girls") plays Wallace's party-animal friend Allan. Mackenzie Davis, as Allan's latest conquest, and Megan Park, as Chantry's promiscuous sister, round out this loosey-goosey world of young urbanites in Toronto (here looking almost as lovely as Paris thanks to cinematographer Rogier Stoffers).
Director Michael Dowse ("Take Me Home Tonight") can't quite decide on a tone -- sly, whimsical or wacky? -- but the problem is the material. Written by Elan Mastai from the stage-play "Toothpaste and Cigars," the movie mistakes trivial banter for a deep connection. Wallace and Chantry compose refrigerator-magnet poetry and come up with new names for Cool Whip, but that's about all they have to offer. Wallace isn't any more insightful or sensitive than Ben (a very good Rafe Spall), but he is much better at cracking Elvis Presley jokes.
With a cooing rock soundtrack from indie-rock veteran AC Newman and a surfeit of pop-culture references, "What If" is occasionally endearing. It shows us what it's like to be smitten with someone cute and clever, but that's not the same as love.
PLOT A single guy and a committed girl attempt to overcome mutual attraction and remain friends.
RATING PG-13 (language, sexuality)
CAST Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver
BOTTOM LINE Cute banter replaces emotional depth in this rom-com, though Kazan's abundant charm almost compensates.