Silver Screen Cinema

IF Review

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Ryan Reynolds Photo

Ryan Reynolds

Columbia Pictures

Rated: PG

101 Minutes

Directed by: John Krasinski

Starring: Cailey Fleming, Ryan Reynolds


IF Poster

Imaginary friends seem in vogue in movie theaters this year. Earlier, we had the unimaginatively named Imaginary, in which a little girl’s imaginary teddy bear friend proves non-imaginary and unfriendly. Now, writer/director John Krasinski’s IF (short for “imaginary friend”) debuts. Krasinski’s movie is a lot friendlier (including a teddy bear that’s more Winnie the Pooh than Cocaine Bear) but struggles to find a balance between whimsy and melodrama.

Cailey Fleming stars in IF as Bea, a 12-year-old whose idyllic childhood was shattered when her mother died of cancer. Now, her father (Krasinski) has checked into a New York City hospital for some unspecified but severe heart surgery. Bea moves in with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw). Despite Dad’s attempts to clown around about his surgery to cheer her up, Bea is determined to “act the adult.” Back in her apartment, Bea determines that something strange 

is happening in the upstairs apartment. When she confronts her neighbor Cal (Ryan Reynolds), she learns Cal is playing host to some imaginary friends. 

As Cal explains it, as children grow up, they stop believing in their imaginary friends, so the friends disappear. The friends aren’t gone, but the children can’t see them. Only a special few like Bea can still them. Cal’s two “roommates” are Blossom (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who resembles the Do Bee from Romper Room, and Blue (Steve Carrell), a giant furry purple thing. Blue resembles one of Sully’s relatives from Monsters, Inc. Cal is running an IF-making service, trying to pair abandoned IFs like Blue with new kids. He enlists Bea’s help in his efforts.

Cal takes Bea to Coney Island, where a hidden stairway takes them to the retirement home for forgotten IFs. There, they meet a bizarre variety of creatures, including a unicorn, a talking sunflower, and a marshmallow on fire. These IFs are voiced by an all-star vocal cast, including Emily Blunt, Bradley Cooper, George Clooney, and Matt Damon. The aforementioned teddy bear, Lewis (Louis Gossett, Jr.), supervises the home. When Lewis tells Bea to let her imagination go, the home is transformed into a series of weird rooms culminating on a giant soundstage. There, Bea, an unwilling Cal, and dozens of singers and Ifs perform a lively song-and-dance rendition of Tina Turner’s “Better Be Good to Me.” Back in the real world, Bea becomes Cal’s assistant in a frustrating effort to find new homes for IFs. She also visits her father every day, where he seems to be on the world’s longest waiting list for surgery.

The musical montage is the best scene in IF and one of the few instances where Krasinski gets the right blend of whimsy and reality. It’s an impressive scene that will have a long life on streaming sites. Another enjoyable scene features Grandma, a former ballet dancer, breaking into a routine in front of an open window overlooking the familiar New York City nighttime landscape. As she does so, Blossom mimics her routine from behind a couch. Scenes like these show the potential magic of a movie like IF. Alas, they are few and far between in the film.

Krasinski mostly tries to milk humor from repeated scenes of a giant purple thing walking next to unsuspecting humans. A little of this type of humor goes a long way. Cal and Bea’s efforts to find new homes for the Ifs aren’t nearly as funny as they should be. Unlike movies like Toy Story, in which the supporting toys had distinct personalities, none of the supporting Ifs have any character beyond names like Unicorn and Sunflower. And there’s little more to a roasting marshmallow than the original comic shock value in seeing it. (I wonder what sort of child would have a marshmallow for an imaginary friend.) Adults may enjoy trying to match characters with the actors providing the voices (I recognized a few), but the jokes for young and old are few.

The movie’s more serious scenes don’t work that well, either. A screenwriter could have made a tremendous coming-of-age movie about a child dealing with her surviving parent’s possibly life-ending surgery, but we get too few scenes of Fleming and Krasinski together. Ironically, the home video clips of the family in happier times are also some of the movie’s better moments. A subplot in which Bea befriends Benjamin (Alan Kim), a bedridden little boy in the hospital, works better than Bea’s interactions with her father. (You can probably guess where one IF will find a new home.)

You can’t hate a movie like IF whose heart is clearly in the right place. The film benefits from a solid performance by Fleming and reliable support from Reynolds and Shaw. Also, the animated characters are interesting to look at. Legendary director Howard Hawks once said a good movie has three good scenes and no bad ones. IF has two excellent scenes but, unfortunately, several misfires. The movie will probably become a staple at future kids’ summer matinees, where unlucky parents will be roped into attending. For those parents and their children, here’s hoping they have better luck with their imaginary friends than those they see on the screen.

In this clip, Ryan Reynolds tries to prevent Blue from waking a little girl:

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