IF Movie Review: An enchanting coming-of-age tale with beautiful themes

IF Movie Review: An enchanting coming-of-age tale with beautiful themes

John Krasinski’s film works up a sense of wonderment with a beautifully realised story that comes with its surprises wrapped in a comforting embrace
IF(3 / 5)

John Krasinski’s IF is a film that explores the importance of an imaginary friend in one’s early years of development. The film shows that imaginary friends come in all shapes and sizes, even including invincible companions. It suggests that the presence of one in a child's life makes them tap into their creative side more, better cope with emotions, and practice their social skills. Take the lead character of IF, Cailey Fleming’s Elizabeth, also called Bea, for instance. The film shows how she comes of age through her interactions with imaginary friends, also known as IFs. She moves into her grandmother’s place and starts seeing talking animals and other fantastical beings who seek perfect matches. The memories of the mother (Catharine Daddario) she lost in her childhood continue to haunt her even in a later stage of her life. Bea is not quite an adult yet, but she is old enough not to need childhood collectables anymore. “I am twelve,” she tells her grandmother when asked about her childhood collection. She cannot physically become a younger child again, but the fact that she looks fondly at camera footage of her childhood hints at her desire to be one.

Director: John Krasinski

Cast: Cailey Fleming, Ryan Reynolds, Fiona Shaw, Catharine Daddario, John Krasinski

Voice Cast: Steve Carell, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Louis Gossett Jr, Christopher Meloni, Emily Blunt

Her best chance to relive her childhood is to enlist herself in the universe of imaginary friends as a ‘matchmaker’, meaning one who helps them find children and extend their existence on Earth. There is a bit of Toy Story in IF, as well as Where the Wild Things Are. The animals and creatures experiencing loneliness, as children grow out of them, is a concept similar to the toys in Toy Story who feel left behind after Andy becomes an adult and loses interest in toys. As with Andy in Toy Story, the talking creatures in IF only come alive in Bea’s imagination, mainly to give her comfort and companionship. IF also argues that children outgrow their imaginary friends over time. There is a bit of that Pixar touch in Krasinski’s film, especially in terms of how it marries elements of magical realism with storytelling that explores nuanced and bittersweet themes. Max in Where the Wild Things Are also deals with his emotions, especially his loneliness and anger, in the company of imaginary friends. Like the moving Spike Jonze film, IF also shows how a child uses her imagination to navigate her emotional landscape. Add to that the splendid effects in the film, especially one where Ryan Reynolds seamlessly weaves in and out of blocks in the universe of imaginary friends, and it becomes a visual treat to behold.

Now, this is not to say that IF is a masterpiece. If you nitpick, it also has its fair share of flaws. After all, which film does not have some? There are moments where IF uses dialogue to convey its surreal themes and becomes borderline-cloying, with explicit messages. Not every one of the jokes with the friends lands. In fact, there is such an overload of talking animals and fantastical creatures here that not every one of them leaves a lasting impact. The few memorable characters who are not humans include Steve Carell’s Blue, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Blossom, Christopher Meloni's Cosmo, and the late Louis Gossett Jr’s Lewis. Brad Pitt’s Keith leaves a greater impression than some of the other characters. It also does not help that Ryan Reynolds and Fiona Shaw’s roles as Bea’s neighbour and grandmother, respectively, only come across as plot devices and are not crucial enough to the story. However, the pros of IF outweigh the cons. The film is ultimately a triumph as it works up a sense of wonderment and tugs at our heartstrings. Krasinski brings out an earnest performance from young Cailey Fleming that oozes charm and enchants with genuine emotions. He also wraps his film’s surprises in a comforting embrace, reminding us of the magic of childhood and the power of imagination.

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