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If you are indeed lucky to see an early screening of John Krasinski’s new film, “IF”, then may be the writer/director will make a short intro that it is actually for all the “girl dads.” That much is true after I watched it though: “IF” might have been made for families but it’s more about parents than their children; specifically fathers who have daughters looking for something between “Minions” and not as scary as possible. May even bore them to tears. 

This is quite a leap for Krasinski whose transition from sitcom lead to successful director with the “Quiet Place” series was no less amazing seeing him here. After all, this is the same person who had a tiny feel-good news show he ran from his house during a pandemic and then sold to ViacomCBS, presumably for a ton of money. The guy’s this sweet-as-all American new dad who got into horror films just before making one that was appropriate for his kids.

The results, such as they are, play out like a half-baked live-action adaptation of a Pixar- inspired movie—Monster Inc-like structure of IF world and dramedic coming-of-age stories like Inside Out or Up. Opening credits are reminiscent of Up with its dreamy home movies capturing the rhythms of an idyllic happy family—with Krasinski acting as the head—ostensibly taken on DV but which strangely looks like super grainy professional quality film stock. When films use this kind of device only one thing can come — death. Not once but twice: We find little Bea (Cailey Fleming) mourning her mother’s offscreen death from some time ago, which now aggravates by her father remaining in hospital waiting heart surgery (never explained, he just says he has “a broke heart,” which is rather clever study case about simplicity and sentimentality inherent in movies). Trauma changes her completely despite Krasinski’s sarcastic efforts to cheer her up in the hospital room. 

Meanwhile, Bea stays with her equally animated grandmother (Fiona Shaw, one of the movie’s best parts) at her old, creaking apartment building. It’s then that she suddenly starts seeing people’s imaginary friends (IFs as the film proudly calls them), leading to an endeavor with her grandmother’s neighbor downstairs–the cynical IF whisperer Calvin (Ryan Reynolds). You see, he has been running a sort of matchmaking service for IFs whose kids have stopped believing in them; after that, you generally end up being sent off gently into a kind of pastel retirement home. Therefore, Bea is eager for action (or anything which can be believed in) and decides to try and save the IFs through making someone believe in them by saving Calvin.

This is the flimsy script’s framework, which Krasinski loosely based it on and which makes some gesture towards mechanical worldbuilding before giving up and turning out to be so needy. It may sound ridiculous, but for such a funny kids’ movie, it is very dour and sickly-sweet; opting for the patient pathos instead of laugh-out-loud humor. The young dads in the audience may appreciate that, but it must bore children to death.

Krasinski uses the kind of suspenseful eye he developed in “A Quiet Place” during its beginning sections to chilling effect in children’s horror: Janusz Kaminski frames grandma’s apartment as though it were the Overlook Hotel, winding staircase included; one early terrifying moment shows us what a strange old woman can look like from a kid’s perspective while she stares at you down a hallway. In moments like these there is something more sentimental about Guillermo del Toro’s work, that creates an imaginative world where imagination could just be threatening as much as comforting. 

But then there are IFs and their dilemma when most of IF loses steam. As for those creatures themselves they are not that impressive: they assume any form in which their kids conceived them including fire-breathing dragons or walking talking self-roasting marshmallows all voiced by a murderer’s row of “that guy” guest voices that’ll leave you reaching for your phone to pull up IMDb right after. 

Sure enough, they’re highly technological designs but devoid of life or personality. This is particularly true for Blue (Steve Carell), who plays IF and whose appearance resembles Grimace after years under British dentistry—purple with jagged teeth. Instead of being portrayed with any trace of ironic distance by Carrel himself gives him an unexpectedly bland performance—an odd choice considering his ability to bring animated characters like Gru alive through his quick wit and verbal dexterity. 

Besides Reynolds (who walks through the film with all the enthusiasm of a man who has become bored with Deadpool’s shtick), the human cast is little better. Almost redundant to have him here, since he functions as a surrogate John Krasinski “fun dad” character; instead, Calvin serves mostly as an aggravating sidekick—a cynic who nevertheless assists the IFs on their mission. And then there’s Fleming herself, a waifish young girl who rises to the occasion in but a Big Moment or two at the end and spends most of her time pouting and learning things.

The mechanics of the IFs also beggar belief and change on a dime depending on which lazy heartstring Krasinski wants to pull next. The script can’t decide how they actually work: Are they gone when forgotten or are they placed in one? Is this plan that these kids will be rehomed or that their once grown up adult owners will believe in them again? What happens after that? However, these are irrelevant issues for intended children viewers; nonetheless, when already it is such insipidnesses it is hard not to get caught up in its rickety machinery. By its end you almost feel like all this sturm und drang, though tremendous seeming at times, builds toward stakes that barely even exist.

Every so often, Krasinski stumbles onto a nice idea or a perfect scene: a kaleidoscopic chase through an IF retirement home that Bea is transforming in her mind (complete with Busby Berkeley homages and Reynolds crawling out of an oil painting); Shaw’s character remembering her love of ballet while her ex-IF (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) dances beside her, just out of sight. But there’s one like this for every other clichéd scene with bored actors merely performing the script by rote or uttering syrupy sayings such as “The most important stories we tell are the ones we tell ourselves.” Not to mention the film’s music choices, the last of which is so on-the-nose, so outrageously bad, Wes Anderson should sue for plagiarism.

“IF” is well-meaning but misguided – it is a kid’s movie without humor and a parent’s movie without direction. I really hope Krasinski had fun making it; it seemed like he needed some relief after doing two horror movies. But now, it’s time to put away childish things.

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