“IF” Imagines A Storyline With Little Substance


If there’s one thing worth praising about “IF,” it’s the ambition. Lacking the safety net of a pre-existing franchise and borrowing no thematic continuity from actor-director John Krasinski’s previous work, “IF” is almost entirely reliant on its own merits. Fans of “A Quiet Place” will find little to entice them into this new venture, but it has no shame about that fact. This is a movie for kids through-and-through, and unlike the irony-laden likes of “Marvel” or the recent output from Walt Disney Animation Studios, it’s not afraid to be proud of that.

The issue comes with the fact that this movie has few merits to speak of, and it has absolutely no respect for children as an intelligent audience. While the content of the story feels geared toward kids of around 7 or 8 years old, the script and structure seem obligated to spell out every plot detail and joke to the point of exhaustion.

It hampers its own success by dumbing itself down for an audience that would already have no trouble understanding what it’s trying to say, resulting in a movie that flip-flops between condescending and incomprehensible with every scene change. The whiplash of Blue, a character ripped straight from a more toddler-friendly version of “Monsters Inc.,” being inserted into a hackneyed exploration of childhood pain and anxiety renders the more emotional moments null and void. The movie insists it’s about a range of things – the recapturing of youth, the heartbreak of grief, and the importance of retaining one’s youth – but stopping to think about what it’s actually delivering reveals that it doesn’t seem to possess any kind of substance at all.

“IF” is a mess of stratospheric proportions. Behind some fun voicework and some admittedly inspired character designs, there’s nothing holding it together. Even the core concept of imaginary friends needing to find new homes is promptly abandoned around halfway through and never resolved.

Cailey Fleming’s Bea, the hero of this story, pivots between preteen bemusement, grief-stricken ennui, and total commitment with little reason for each change, with her motivations never clear in any regard. Her relationship to Cal, Ryan Reynolds’ character, is established as vaguely friendly, but there are moments where Krasinski’s horror tendencies take root and Bea decides to borderline terrorize Cal with the power of her own imagination, which is never used again after that scene. Their connection is unclear but easy to surmise, but the movie makes the mistake of confusing a mystery with just withholding information.

When the twist lands, it feels less like a grand reveal and more like an obvious plot point that was gutted by scene cuts and studio mandates. It’s structured almost like a straight-to-DVD Disney sequel, stitched together from three unrelated episodes of a failed TV show. One moment, it’s about Bea distracting herself from the real world, and the next, it’s about rehoming forgotten imaginary friends. After that, it’s about rekindling the joy of childhood in adults who have left it behind. No rhyme, no reason, just a tedious march from plot to plot.

It doesn’t help that most of the movie hinges on the kind of nonsense dialogue that wouldn’t sound unfamiliar when spewed from an AI language model. There’s a moment around two-thirds of the way through where Bea, momentarily rudderless while the movie shifts into a new story, is sat next to Lewis, the 90-something-year-old teddy bear patriarch of the “IF” family. Unsure of what to do next, Lewis offers some advice that dances around themes like the power of memory and childhood that, even when delivered in the smooth tones of Louis Gossett Jr., makes absolutely no sense. It’s not the only time the movie employs this kind of emotive gibberish, and as the film drags on, it becomes increasingly more manipulative.

In addition to being ripped wholesale from a Pixar movie, the idea that imaginary friends can disappear if they’re forgotten is used exclusively to tug on the heartstrings of the audience. At no point is it even hinted at as a point of conflict in the film. Similarly, the script finds a way to shoehorn in an implied final moment between Bea and her father, framed like a final goodbye on his deathbed. Except at no point does the film imply that he’s going to die. Bea’s dad is asleep, recovering from a surgery that everyone agrees went fine, and it’s treated with the same reverence as Tony Stark in “Avengers: Endgame.” It’s hacky and manipulative, and above all, not compelling.

During the press tour for “IF,” Krasinski described the film as “a live-action Pixar movie.” It’s easy to see why he held that thought. “IF” is the brainchild of someone who perhaps had a Pixar movie explained to them once in a loud restaurant, without ever having seen one themselves. On that line of thought, said person has likely never spoken to a real child before, sourcing all their information on what they like from YouTube brain-rot videos designed to keep kids quiet and listless in front of a tablet for as long as possible. It possesses none of the soul of a Pixar flick and only stands a chance of appealing to the youngest cohort of cinemagoers. Sure, it’s just a children’s movie, but children deserve better than this.


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