Film review: IF

Ryan Reynolds’ charisma may give this film about imaginary friends the illusion of watchability for a while, but the big twist it builds towards is too obvious and underwhelming, writes Alistair Harkness

IF (U) **

There’s a nice idea about the importance of imaginary friends to a child’s development buried somewhere in John Krasinski’s live-action family film IF. Sadly, The Quiet Place writer/director/star hasn’t figured out how to shape it into a meaningful, or even half-way coherent, film. Like a cross between The Sixth Sense, Monsters Inc and Harvey, its high-concept plot revolves around a 12-year-old called Bea (Cailey Fleming) who discovers she can see the acronymic IFs (Imaginary Friends) left in limbo when the children who dreamt them up not only age out of their need for them, but forget they ever existed in the first place.

Bea’s ability to see and interact with these rejected figments of other people’s imagination has something to do with the anxiety she’s feeling at the prospect of her beloved father (Krasinski) going into hospital to undergo heart surgery. In the film’s beautifully shot opening montage (clearly inspired by another Pixar classic, Up) we see that her hitherto idyllic Brooklyn childhood has already endured the tragic early death of her mother, so even though she’s putting a brave face on things as she moves back in with the grandmother (Fiona Shaw) who helped her and her father get through that previous tough time, Bea’s stoic determination to be all grown up is soon challenged by the two IFs (one a big purple monster voiced by Steve Carrell, the other a weird chipmunk-faced dancer voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) that she discovers living in an apartment on the top floor of her grandmother’s building.

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The apartment itself seems to be owned by Cal (Ryan Reynolds), a braces-sporting grown-up burdened with the task of matching these forgotten, neurotic and needy creatures to new kids who don’t have imaginary friends of their own – a nonsensical plot point that the film attempts to resolve but never quite manages as Cal and Bea gradually figure out it might be better to try to reconnect the IFs with the people who invented them in the first place.

As half-baked as this sounds, you can almost see what Krasinski is attempting here. The bureaucratic travails of those straddling a secret world behind the real world has been a rich source for fantasy in everything from A Matter of Life and Death and the aforementioned Monsters Inc to Pixar’s more recent film Soul. But Krasinski’s ideas – as charming as some of them are on a scene-by-scene basis – just don’t hang together, and while Reynolds’ charisma may give the illusion of watchability for a little while, the big touchy-feely twist it builds towards is too obvious and underwhelming to generate the emotional pay-off it desperately craves.

General release

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