(Canada, 97 min.)
Dir. Michael Dowse, Writ. Elan Mastai
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Megan Park, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, Rafe Spall.
Okay, I’m just going to come out and say it: I love The F Word! It’s literally been years since anyone delivered a romantic comedy that feels so refreshingly authentic and true, and I just can’t help but fall head over heels for this charming, warm, and infectiously feel-good-funny film. This Toronto-shot (and Toronto-set!) rom-com hits all the right notes as Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan give a pair of winning performances as two star-crossed friends who might ultimately be the perfect match. The F Word might be the best romantic comedy this country has ever produced.
The F Word, re-titled What If in the States for Americans who find the word “friend” too risqué, takes a situation that audiences have seen before and rewrites it with more heart and honesty than rom-coms usually receive. The F Word tells the age-old story of boy meets girl when Wallace (Radcliffe) writes some fridge magnet poetry after being dumped by his girlfriend (Enemy’s Sarah Gadon) and his clever wordplay/mopey outlook on love catches the attention of a fellow partier named Chantry (Kazan). Wallace and Chantry hit it off and get along famously as they ease into a back-and-forth banter that’s a mix of flirting and familiar repartee. They’re a natural fit and they seem so comfortable together that romance looks to be in the air right until Wallace walks Chantry home to her door. Then she mentions The Boyfriend.
The F Word asks if two members of the opposite sex can maintain a purely platonic relationship when they have the synergy and spark that usually leads to romance. As Wallace and Chantry get to know each other better as friends, playing Ping-Pong at Spin or grabbing coffee at The Rooster, The F Word shows them escalating their friendship to the point where intimacy seems inevitable. Sex and romance are just steps away as the tango of Wallace and Chantry’s relationship skirts around will-they-or-won’t-they jumping points where either one seems ready to risk it all and say the unsayable.
The F Word fuels the tricky dance between friendship and romance thanks to the beautiful script by Elan Mastai, which scooped a Canadian Screen Award for Best Adapted Screenplay earlier this year (the film is based on the play “Toothpaste and Cigars” by TJ Dawe and Mike Rinaldi). Mastai’s hilarious screenplay perfectly fuels Wallace and Chantry’s relationship with fun back-and-forth banter as the pair moves in harmony by joking about everything from their past failures to Elvis’s treasured Fool’s Gold sandwich—a disgustingly delectable sounding thing comprised of a hollowed-out loaf of Italian bread filled with butter, peanut butter, jelly, and lots and lots of bacon. (Fool’s Gold plays the top banana in this relationship driven by food and its ability to bring people together.) The F Word has a natural ear for the way people of Wallace and Chantry’s generation speak in jokes and pop-culture references, both in person and via mediated communication, and the screenplay is just as authentic as it is amusing. The F Word also lets the casual humor between Wallace and Chantry play a duel role of showing their perfect match and mutual brainwave at the same time that their clever repartee offers a defense mechanism that guards the two from acknowledging the obvious connection that could easily break them apart if broached poorly.
The F Word effortlessly captures the complexity of Wallace and Chantry’s conundrum. The film is very honest in the way it presents the difficulty in finding that impossibly perfect moment to risk everything in a great friendship and take that leap to become more than just friends. It’s apparent in the mutually unspoken desire within Radcliffe and Kazan’s performances, but also in their naturally droll conversations with friends who point out the obvious facts to which Wallace and Chantry are willfully blind.
A great supporting cast including Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, and Megan Park nudges the friends to take the leap. They raise the subject in amusingly casual ways (special props go to Davis for her scene-stealing turn as the straight-talking Nicole) and in their own efforts to pursue relationships even if it means embarrassment or rejection. (Megan Parks excels in this area as Chantry’s hilarious hopelessly romantic sister.) Rafe Spall’s equally likable turn as Chantry’s boyfriend Ben ensures that Wallace doesn’t have an all-out-unlikable foe, while Sarah Gadon is remarkably effective in her brief appearance as Wallace’s ex, who shows that even a guilty party can be hurt by a relationship torn by infidelity. The ensemble of The F Word embraces the awkwardness of Wallace and Chantry’s situation and the emotional vulnerability that lies in exposing oneself to one’s closest friends.
The performances by Radcliffe and Kazan, however, drive every frame of the film. They’re fluently charming, likable, and funny, and their chemistry is a natural fit for their characters. Radcliffe displays an unexpected comedic strength and a dashing ability to play the romantic lead while Kazan is irresistibly effervescent and sweet. This pair of dazzling performances gives romantic comedy one of the best matches the genre has seen in years: they’re such a perfect match that one would swear the actors are really in love.
Director Michael Dowse (Goon) brings all the right elements together to make The F Word the warmest, smartest, and funniest romantic comedy in some time. This charismatic film gives nods to some of the genre’s greatest hits and gives them a hip contemporary spin. When Harry Met Sally-ish lunch dates become orgasmic nibbles over deep fried pickles and fatty sandwiches, and a Pretty Woman-y run-in with a haughty salesgirl offers a vehicle for a beautifully intimate scene in a dressing room that fully realizes the spark between Wallace and Chantry. Even Canada’s own Take the Waltz gets a nod when two lovers play the game of teasing their mate about the brutal things they’d do to one another to prove their love.
It’s lovely to see a Canadian film like Take this Waltz get a mention amongst its contemporary counterparts, since The F Word lovingly uses its Toronto setting as an integral character of the film. Dowse shoots The F Word amidst familiar locations like Chinatown and The Beach—the Toronto porn is recognizable even to a wannabe Torontonian. Wallace and Chantry even take in a screening of The Princess Bride at Toronto’s Royal Theatre. The Little Italy movie house offers a fine stepping-stone for asking if Wallace and Chantry’s relationship could offer something more as the pair bonds over their mutual enjoyment over seeing a movie alone in a theatre with neither of them saying, but clearly thinking, that the film would best be enjoyed with a partner. This movie lovers’ movie is worthy of the rom-coms to which it pays homage.
Rating: ★★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)
The F Word opens in theatres August 22 from eOne Films.
It returns to Ottawa Oct. 9 at The ByTowne.
It returns to Ottawa Oct. 9 at The ByTowne.