IF Review | An Overly Sentimental but Endearing Fantasy Adventure


Summary

  • Flawless visual effects blend suitably cartoonish creatures seamlessly with live-action actors in the imaginative
    IF
    .
  • Young actress Cailey Fleming shines, displaying remarkable gravitas and a unique blend of toughness and vulnerability.
  • John Krasinski’s emotionally impactful film may be a bit too emotional (perhaps melodramatic and saccharine), and predictable, but delivers some big laughs and warrants some genuine tears.



A disenchanted 12-year-old girl rediscovers her sense of joy and youthful exuberance in an overly sentimental but endearing fantasy adventure. IF, short for imaginary friends, tugs mightily on your heartstrings. John Krasinksi, who pulls quadruple duty as writer, director, producer, and co-star, wants to squeeze your eyeballs for buckets of tears. He accomplishes that goal but, thankfully, gets an equal number of big laughs in a wonderful second act. There are a few narrative bumps. A huge reveal is evident from the start. It’s another case of waiting for a film to deliver something the audience is keenly aware of. That’s not a deal-breaker with stunning visual effects and engaging lead performances.


Elizabeth, nicknamed Bea (Cailey Fleming), arrives at her grandmother’s (Fiona Shaw) apartment in Brooklyn Heights, New York. She doesn’t want to play with the toys, crayons, and sketchbooks from her kindergarten days. Bea stoutly announces she’s no longer a kid. She’s here for serious business. Grandma takes Bea to visit her Dad (John Krasinski) in the surgery ward of a local hospital. His goofy and playful demeanor is completely lost on Bea. She’s steeling herself for another tragedy.

Bea finds an old camcorder in the guest room closet. She sneaks out to buy a power cable, but notices a diminutive figure chasing behind her. Bea follows what she thinks is a girl upstairs to the top apartment in the building. Bea knocks and sadly announces she has no friends. She just wants someone her age to talk to. Calvin (Ryan Reynolds) tells the cacophony of voices to be quiet and Bea to go away.


A Clear and Sentimental Message Gleaned from Past Films

IF (2024)

3/5

IF, originally titled Imaginary Friends, is a comedic fantasy film written and directed by John Krasinski. A young girl who experiences a tragic moment early in her life discovers she can see the imaginary friends of others who leave them behind as they grow older.

Release Date
May 17, 2024

Cast
Ryan Reynolds , John Krasinski , Cailey Fleming , Steve Carell , Matt Damon , Emily Blunt , Phoebe Waller-Bridge , Vince Vaughn , Sam Rockwell , Maya Rudolph , Jon Stewart , Awkwafina

Studio(s)
Sunday Night Productions , Maximum Effort

Distributor(s)
Paramount Pictures

Pros

  • Sublime visual effects incorporate clever creatures into the world.
  • Cailey Fleming is phenomenal as young Bea.
Cons

  • A predictable plot twist and heavy melodrama make IF a bit cheesy.


Bea’s decision to follow Calvin the following night leads to a shocking discovery. She sees him climb out of an adjacent apartment with a fluffy purple monster in tow. Bea can’t believe her eyes and promptly faints with a thud. She awakens at Calvin’s to the sneezing Blue (Steve Carell) and the black and white butterfly, Blossom (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Calvin warns she’s opened a Pandora’s box. Bea, like Calvin, can see imaginary friends.

The rub is that everyone has imaginary friends when they’re young. Growing up and becoming more cynical leads to losing the memory of them. But that doesn’t mean the IFs are gone. They’re still around but childless and with no real purpose. The lucky few who can still see them have an obligation to help them find new kids, a job that frustrates Calvin — he’s not very good at it. Insert Bea to the rescue.


Related: Best John Krasinski Movies, Ranked

Krasinki (The Office, A Quiet Place, Jack Ryan) has a message that’s abundantly clear. Life isn’t always a bed of roses and cotton candy. Everyone faces difficulties that threaten to cloud happiness. Losing those we love cannot be a reason to change for the worst. His scenes in the hospital are purposely silly. Dad’s antics are also a coping mechanism. He wants to preserve Bea’s innocence, but also aims to avoid his own depression.

Krasinksi borrows liberally from well-known blockbusters to make this point. A couple will give IF’s plot away, but it’s no spoiler to say Krasinski channels Robin Williams with his performance. Go check out Patch Adams after watching this film, if you haven’t run out of tissues.


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Flawless Visual FX

IF has amazing visual effects. They’re flawless in the correct way. The IFs aren’t meant to be photorealistic CGI. They’re supposed to look cartoonish and childlike. Their seamless integration with the live-action actors is stunning. The film looks so good, you kind of forget the IFs aren’t really there. Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kamiński (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) and visual effects supervisor Chris Lawrence (Gravity, The Martian) continue to be at the top of their game. They’ll both be in the running come awards time next year.


IF does have a rocky first act. The initial time spent establishing key exposition has a sluggish feel. That changes when the action kicks into high gear. Bea and Cal’s shenanigans turbocharge the narrative. What begins as sad and depressing gets a lively boost just as your interest wanes. A shorter opening edit would have helped the pacing, but possibly lessened Krasinski’s overall emotional impact. Bea has to be a sourpuss that finds her smile.

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Cailey Fleming Continues a Great Career


Cailey Fleming is a star. She has remarkable gravitas and presence for a young actress. Anyone who’s seen her kick zombie butt as Judith Grimes, Rick and Michonne’s sword-wielding daughter on The Walking Dead, knows what she’s capable of. Fleming has the ability to be tough and vulnerable at the same time. She brings the tenets that make Judith so formidable but sensitive to the big screen. You never forget that she’s still just a kid desperate for guidance. Fleming brings to mind Jodie Foster and Hailee Steinfeld. That’s huge praise and bodes well for her future career.

IF has one particular aspect that’s sort of unnerving. Bea ventures out into New York City alone at night. Then she befriends an older man, a stranger, and goes off with him unsupervised. This is incredibly foolish and dangerous behavior for any child. Parents must make sure kids firmly understand they cannot emulate Bea. It’s a bummer reality that has to be said.


IF is a production of Sunday Night Productions and Maximum Effort. It will be released theatrically on May 17th from Paramount Pictures.



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