IF Movie Review: A Heartwarming Adventure for Girl Dads

If you’re lucky enough to attend an early screening of John Krasinski’s new film, “IF,” you may be greeted with a short introduction by the writer/director, asserting that the film is expressly for all the “girl dads” out there.

Having now seen it, that much is true: despite its family-friendly brief, “IF” is less for kids than for the adults of kids — the girl dads, if you will — who want something that feels a little more mature than “Minions” but doesn’t scare the kids away. Far from it; it might just bore them to tears.

A Bold Shift for John Krasinski

It’s a bold shift for Krasinski, who’s already transitioned from sitcom lead to successful director with the “Quiet Place” series, and yet, looking at the man himself, it makes perfect sense. This is the guy who started a little feel-good news show from his house during the pandemic (that he then sold to ViacomCBS for a presumed truckload of money), after all.

He’s the kind of all-American aw-shucks new dad who dipped his toe into the horror genre, and now wants to make a fun movie that his children can watch.

The results, such as they are, play out like a half-baked live-action adaptation of a Pixar picture, from the “Monsters, Inc”-like structure of the IF world and the dramedic coming-of-age tales of “Inside Out” and “Up.”

The opening credits even evoke “Up,” playing gauzy home movies of the rhythms of a playful, happy family—with Krasinski as the patriarch—ostensibly shot by a DV camera but which looks suspiciously like grainy, professional-grade film stock. When films use this kind of device, only one thing can come — death.

A Story of Loss and Imagination

Not just once but twice: When we catch up with Krasinski’s daughter, Bea (Cailey Fleming), she’s still in mourning over the offscreen death of her mother some time ago, which is now compounded by her father staying at the hospital awaiting heart surgery. (We’re never privy to the details: he just says he has a “broken heart,” which is a nifty case study for the film’s simple, cloying nature.) The trauma clearly eats away at her, despite Krasinski’s quirked-up, obnoxious attempts to cheer her up in the hospital room.

In the meantime, Bea stays with her equally effervescent grandmother (Fiona Shaw, one of the film’s highlights) at her old, creaky apartment building. It’s while there that she suddenly develops the ability to see people’s imaginary friends (or IFs, as the film so proudly dubs them), and gets looped into an adventure involving her grandmother’s downstairs neighbor, the cynical IF whisperer Calvin (Ryan Reynolds).

You see, he’s been running a kind of matchmaking service for IFs whose kids have stopped believing in them; once they do, you usually get put out to pasture in a kind of pastel retirement home. Bea, eager for something to do (and believe in), sets herself to the task of helping Calvin save the IFs by giving them someone to believe in them.

A Sentimental and Melancholic Adventure

That’s the loose framework upon which Krasinski’s paper-thin script rests, one that gestures broadly at a kind of mechanical worldbuilding but soon throws its hands up in the air and greedily chases one heartstring after another.

For a kid’s adventure, it’s surprisingly dour and sentimental, chucking laugh-out-loud jokes for a patient sense of melancholy. That may work well for the young dads in the audience, but it’s gotta bore kids to tears.

Its early stretches see Krasinski using the suspenseful eye he developed during “A Quiet Place” to fascinating kid-horror effect: Janusz Kaminski shoots the winding staircase of grandma’s apartment like it’s the Overlook Hotel, and one early spooky moment shows us a kid’s-eye view of how creepy a strange old woman leering at you in the hallway can be.

There’s something of Guillermo del Toro’s more sentimental work in some of these moments, building a world where imagination can be just as much a threat as comfort.

Lackluster IFs and Performances

But then we get to the IFs and their dilemma, where most of “IF” loses its steam. The creatures themselves are hardly much to write home about: they take whatever form their kids conceived, from fire-breathing dragons to 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, they’re technically impressive to look at{finish}