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‘IF’ is a Heartwarming Film Full of Wonder and Joy

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You know, I’m not sure I ever had an imaginary friend, such as they are. And that is weird because I grew up as a single child, so I was in the prime market for making one. Perhaps I just forgot all about whatever one I did have. I used to run about outside and pretend I was a Ninja Turtle or whatever; does that mean my imaginary friends were the other Turtles? All I know is that I never had an invisible presence that I considered my partner and expected others to cater to. I never set a place for them or drew pictures of them. Perhaps I simply lack imagination. It’s possible! The new children’s feature from John Krasinski, IF (short for Imaginary Friends) is about those friends I’m told so many of us had growing up, the theoretical playmates and protectors we conjured up to make our days more full.

IF tells the story of Bea, a young girl who lost her mother to cancer. As her father enters the hospital for heart surgery, she faces a possible future without both of her parents. With her dad is preparing for the procedure, Bea moves in with her grandmother. In the apartment building where her grandmother lives, Bea meets up with Calvin, a world-weary man who is able to see everyone’s imaginary friends. Or, at least, he is able to see the friends who have been outgrown by their kids. To my recollection, we never see any IF’s in the film that actively have their kid in their lives. Bea is into Calvin’s life as she helps him figure out how to fulfill the lives of the lost and lonely IF’s. They decide upon trying to re-home the IF’s to new kids, giving Bea an adventure to go on as she seeks to distract herself from her father’s surgery.

(left to right) Cailey Fleming as Bea and Steve Carrell as Blue in “IF”. Photo: Paramount Pictures.

TWO UPS AND TWO DOWNS

+ Ryan Reynolds is a highly underrated physical actor. He maintains his ability to do comedy and convey a story through his body language and physical expression. And in this movie, he really gets to show off that talent, as he is constantly stumbling, crumpling, or reacting to special effects beings. He really gets how to use his body and facial expressions for maximum effect. It’s really charming watching him throughout IF

Speaking of the effects, they are phenomenal. Everything looks reach-out-and-touch-it real. The two primary IF’s, Blossom and Blue are magnificent in particular. Some of the others are a bit more cartoony, but that is by design, so you can’t really hold that against the movie. When the flick wants the IF’s to look good, they look great.

But back to Reynolds, he is just turning in another of his typical wonderful performances. You could argue that he plays the sarcastic charmer to various degrees, and that Calvin is only a few degrees different than Guy from Free Guy or even Deadpool. But even if that’s true, he clearly has a niche he excels at, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Other actors have won Academy Awards for playing themselves over and over.

(left to right) Steve Carrell as Blue and Ryan Reynolds as Calvin in “IF”. Photo: Paramount Pictures.

+ While we are on the subject of performers in the movie, Miss Cailey Fleming is the star of this flick, and she carries it through all of the emotional beats. She is 17, and while she is still a child, she doesn’t really come across as a child actor, many of whom can be quite a bit rough around the edges. Fleming has poise beyond her years and believably portrays childlike wonder, glee, sadness, and more. She is quite talented as she navigates the screen opposite all of the IF’s, and she never feels overwhelmed acting against Reynolds, Krasinski, or the stacked voice cast. It will be interesting to see her career take shape from here and see how far this standout role can take her.

IF will make you feel things and tug at your heartstrings, but there’s one thing I noticeably did not do, nor did I hear much of it from the theater audience around me. The movie is surprisingly light on laughs. Not really what I expected when I saw the cast, Reynolds in particular. I was surprised by how not laugh-out-loud funny IF was given I went in expecting to be chuckling frequently at worst.

(left to right) Cailey Fleming as Bea and Ryan Reynolds as Calvin in “IF”. Photo: Paramount Pictures.

And this is fine. Overt humor wasn’t really what the movie was going for, and it did not need to. It hit on several other notes. But for a kids’ movie, I have to wonder if it is going to keep the attention of its younger audience without trying harder to deliver some knocks to their funny bones. I will say that, completely anecdotally, the kids in my theater seemed underwhelmed and were very fidgety throughout. But that’s just my experience!

– There is a very late reveal to IF that you will likely see coming a mile away. And look, I get it. IF isn’t trying to be The Usual Suspects. And I’m sure the secret we eventually become privy to will wow the kids who are in attendance. But as an adult, it was kind of painfully obvious.

Okay, maybe this one is on me. Maybe I’m just jaded. I’m really not sure how the movie could have handled this better. Maybe since the kids were going to be shocked anyway, they could have revealed the moment earlier on so the older folks watching did not have to wait for the inevitable. Wow, this Down is making me sound really curmudgeonly. Look, I gotta give the Downs where I can find them, and this flick did not give me a ton to work with in this regard, so bear with me, you know?

OVERALL

IF is a wonderfully charming movie with some really strong performances, especially by Cailey Fleming as the lead. It’s not particularly funny, but it hits on wonderment and heart. Kids will love all of the vibrant IF characters; adults will appreciate the tone of the story and how it makes you feel about growing up and missing your childhood. There really is something for everyone here, and Krasinski continues to impress behind the camera and as a writer. 

★★★★ Out of 5

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