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What2Watch: What “IF” or “IF” Only?

In case you haven’t seen any trailers for “IF” yet, the movie is all about imaginary friends (who call themselves IFs for short) and is one of the best combination of live-action and animation movies to hit the big screen since “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” back in 1988. This is a movie that will have very different viewing experiences based on your background going into the movie. Neither my wife nor myself can remember having an imaginary friend of our own, but those that have will probably have different emotions about their portrayal. Anyone who has lost a parent at a young age will probably have very different feelings about the movie as well. So will fathers, particularly fathers of young girls. Despite your personal viewing perspective going into it though, I think there will be two main camps of people who leave the theater: those that are caught up in the whimsy and wonder, “what if…,” and those who were disappointed with what they saw and instead ponder how the movie could’ve been better and wonder, “if only…”

MOVIE: “IF” (2024, PG, 104 min, watch it: in theaters only)

My initial reaction to the movie was very much in the first category. I’m an emotional movie viewer and have no shame in admitting that. I definitely suffered some leaky eyes watching Bea (played fantastically by Cailey Fleming) navigating life as a young girl caught between wanting to be the child she is and needing to grow up to face the traumatic experiences of her life. While I may have been influenced by the four-minute introduction writer/director/actor John Krasinski forced audiences to sit through before the movie (what is with movies doing this lately?), I have to agree with Ryan Reynolds’ comment that this movie is like a live-action Pixar movie. That company is known for putting the “feels’ into their movies and always making people cry at some point during them. I honestly can’t think of many other movies that have had this much emotion packed into a less-than-two-hour runtime.

Where this movie starts to fall apart, however, is when you pull yourself out of the experience. When we were out of the movie theater and my wife and I discussed the movie, I found her to be leaning more towards the latter category above, not disappointed in the movie, but pondering how the movie could’ve been better. She had great points and I had to admit that when I wasn’t lost in the great storytelling, there are some plot holes. Significant ones. I don’t want to give anything away about the movie, but I find it safe enough to say the movie wants to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to the imaginary friends. Not many people can see them, but they interact with the world around them by opening doors, hiding within other objects and even being able to move/manipulate objects. However, people who can’t see them never see them doing those things, and that starts to grate on the believability of the movie. I’m sure some of you might not expect believability in a movie about imaginary friends anyway, but from a storytelling perspective, you want to have a world that people can buy into, and this one falls short of doing that whenever you stop and think about what you’re seeing.

So, is this movie What2Watch for you? I loved it while I was watching it. I’m debating about that perspective now that I’m not watching it. I’m willing to bet those that fall into any of the three categories of having a connection to the movie will have stronger emotions about the movie than I did and I’d be very curious to hear from anyone who has had that experience. I’ll just summarize my own stance by saying I’m not at all sorry I saw the movie and the performance of Cailey Fleming alone is absolutely worth the price of admission.

Kent Kraft is someone who now can’t stop pondering what kind of imaginary friend he would’ve created when he was younger. With so many years of life experience now, he finds the possibilities too endless to come up with a solid singular idea. He also wonders if a love of movies, even as a kid, counts as having a multitude of imaginary friends…

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