Review: ‘IF’

Imaginary Friends Steal The Spotlight In John Krasinski's Whimsical, Unfocused Family Film

John Krasinski is a great filmmaker and writer. We know this from the way he scares the crap out of us with his A Quiet Place films, and remember how he lifted our spirits with Some Good News during the pandemic? Turning those skills towards a family-friendly kids movie such as IF should be a snap. Krasinski, who wrote, directed, and has a supporting role, tells a sweet if functional story of a young girl’s vivid imagination and the power of it to help get through tragedy. But for all of the colorful animated characters and celebrity voice cast, IF finds itself in the awkward position of being too somber for children and too much of a kiddie film for adults.

There’s so much deep-rooted emotion and creativity here that it’s disappointing that IF doesn’t quite reach its full potential. The film begins with camcorder footage, flashbacks to a happier time for Bea, played by Jennifer Garner lookalike and The Waking Dead/The Force Awakens actress Cailey Fleming. Bea is shown living a life full of love and laughter with her father (Krasinski, channeling Ryan Reynolds) and most notably, her mother (Catherine Daddario), before the latter begins to dwindle away from cancer. Now 12-years-old, Bea has moved into an apartment with her oblivious grandmother (Fiona Shaw) while Dad is in the hospital for a heart condition, which he comically refers to as a “broken heart”. Dad’s spirits haven’t faded despite the hardship and upcoming surgery. Bea, who pointedly says that she’s not a kid anymore, doesn’t need him to treat her like one.

As you probably already know, IF stands for “imaginary friends”, and everybody has one. But only a few can see them, and Bea is one. Some of them happen to be living in one of the upstairs apartments with a mysterious guy named Cal, played by Ryan Reynolds which is weird because he and Krasinski are doing the same heartbroken goofball schtick.  Cal, along with his big purple Grimace-like pal Blue (voiced by Steve Carell), and Betty Boop/Minnie Mouse-esque Blossom (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), are in the business of matching IFs with kids who need them. It doesn’t take long for Bea to get over her skepticism and join them in this mission, which proves harder than she could’ve imagined.

I could’ve done without the whole IF placement agency subplot, because it muddles a pretty straight-forward narrative. Plus, and this is purely my thing, it reminded me too much of American Society of Magical Negroes, a film I’d rather not ever think about again, thank you very much. In fact, IF feels sluggish and convoluted the longer it stays with this storyline, even if the emotional payoff is worth it in the end.

The film succeeds the more it resembles Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the live-action/animated world the IFs inhabit. Bea falls in love with this wacky group of creatures, which include a talking glass of ice water, a green blob, a unicorn, an excitable Bubble, a chatty sunflower, and more, while visiting their retirement home buried deep within Coney Island amusement park. Krasinski hit up everyone on his Facebook friend list to round up the voice cast, which includes wife Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Maya Rudolph, Sam Rockwell, Jon Stewart, George Clooney, Blake Lively, Brad Pitt (sorta) and my favorite, Richard Jenkins as an art teacher made out of wood. Also, it was a real treat to hear the late Louis Gossett Jr. in a significant role as Lewis, an old teddy bear who cares for the IFs at the retirement home. We come to love this crazy crew of IFs right along with Bea, and we just want to see them happy, which means making others happy.

A major problem with IF is that it just isn’t very funny. It’s merely…pleasant. You might find yourself chuckling a little bit, but this is a movie that is presented as a light-hearted comedy when it isn’t really that. There’s an undercurrent of sadness coursing through IF that is inescapable. You don’t realize how restrained the movie has felt until its one big burst of child-like creative spirit, as Bea literally reshapes the retirement community through the sheer force of her imagination. The scene ends with a vibrant song and dance number that will lift you off your seat. Fleming comes alive in this sequence, too, bursting with the happiness that Bea had kept buried for too long. A sweet and tender film that’s uncertain of its target audience, IF needed more moments like this so kids understand how important it is to stay youthful as they grow into adults.

IF opens in theaters on May 17th.


Travis Hopson
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-ifJohn Krasinski is a great filmmaker and writer. We know this from the way he scares the crap out of us with his A Quiet Place films, and remember how he lifted our spirits with Some Good News during the pandemic? Turning those skills...