ryan reynolds and cailey Fleming lead a group of imaginary friends through a hospital

‘IF’ is a Sentimental, Heavy Tale About Imaginary Friends

Reviewed by Chris Corey
May 17, 2024


★ ★ ½

IF is a film that plays out nothing like its trailer, which promises an upbeat, whimsical exploration into the world of imaginary friends. The movie itself presents a far different tone, a haunting reminiscence of lost childhood, dramatized nostalgia and tragic loss.

Sometimes these contrasts to the advertising tone are a nice surprise. Here, it’s more of a mixed bag.

We first meet Bea, played by Cailey Fleming, as she grows up in her childhood home with her Dad (John Krasinski) and Mom (Catharine Daddario). The opening is told through old video footage with a collage of happy shots, assumingly by Dad, as they gradually work through Mom’s fight with cancer. The happy, positive tone of this collage continues during Mom’s treatments, giving us a sense that this family can probably endure almost anything life throws their way.

Through the first part of the film, we are left to piece together much of what’s happening on our own. It’s nice when filmmakers trust their audience to follow along without unnecessary exposition. In this case, it causes us to focus on more of the puzzle and pulls us away from the story.

ryan reynolds with the bumbly IF Blue

Reynolds with the oafish Blue. © Paramount Pictures

We are shown Bea and Dad with their luggage bags as they close the doors to their apartment, presumably after Mom’s passing. With no solid bridge between scenes, we’re quickly following Bea at her Grandmother’s (Fiona Shaw). Grandmother shows Bea around her apartment where the set decoration is confusingly similar to Bea’s parents’ home. Based on the dialogue, it’s been a long time since Bea has been at Grandmothers and, suffering the loss of her mother, says very little.

Grandmother takes Bea to see Dad in the hospital. We’re given clues as to why Dad’s there – he has a broken heart but it can be fixed. We are left to assume Dad is awaiting a heart transplant. Bea continues to visit Dad in the hospital throughout the film and makes a friend named Benjamin (Alan Kim), to whom she talks each time she sees her Dad.

The friendship with Benjamin, like many of the human relationships in this film, never really materializes into one we can emotionally invest into, which is a shame because it’s a missed opportunity for rich character development.

IF takes its time to tell the story, and it takes us awhile to get to the IFs. IFs are imaginary friends that children are able to see until they reach, I presume, a certain level of maturity. At this point, IFs are left without jobs and find themselves in a retirement home that exists just for them. It isn’t clear if this special retirement home operates in the real world or the imaginary.

Bea encounters an IF in her Grandmother’s apartment building and follows it to the uppermost level of the building. At this point, she’s not really sure what she saw. It could have been a girl as far as she knows. She faints when the IFs are first fully revealed to her.

Cal, played by a surprisingly toned-down Ryan Reynolds, is the IFs caretaker and has been unsuccessful in helping the IFs pair with children who could use an imaginary friend. Bea, of course, takes it upon herself to lead the charge to help Cal get the IFs back to work and find meaning.

reynolds and fleming hold auditions for IF placemens

Reynolds and Fleming hold IF auditions with Louis Gossett Jr.’s IF, Lewis. © Paramount Pictures

The IFs could have provided a much-needed comedic relief to an otherwise heavy story. Their characters lack development which makes it a challenge to emotionally connect with them. There are funny, charming moments with the IFs, but they tend to fall thin against Bea and her lost childhood.

The big, bumbly Blue (Steve Carell) should steal the show with Carell’s range of vocal talent but brings little more than standard slapstick comedy.

Lewis, voiced by Louis Gossett, Jr, an old wise and tattered teddy bear, starts on a promising note as the head of the IFs in the retirement home. Sadly, his character fades into the background of the story.

Fleming, at age 17, is an interesting choice for the 12-year-old Bea. Her performance often eclipses Reynolds, yet it’s often difficult to believe her age matches the role.

Audiences willing to overlook the films’ shortcomings will find a nostalgic look back on their childhood, while younger audiences might find the slow pace of the story boring.

The marketing of this film sells it as a fun, all-ages family film. The actual movie feels more geared towards adults, despite it’s PG rating.

IF is a movie filled with brilliant ideas that mostly fail to adequately enrich the story. It means well, its heart is in the right place, but it falls short of the ambitious depth to which it strives.

Rated: PG (Thematic  Elements, Mild Language)
Running Time: 1h 44min
Directed by: John Krasinski
Written by: John Krasinski
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Cailey Fleming, John Krasinski, Steve Carell, Lous Gossett Jr.

Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Kids & Family

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