‘IF’ is a wild card that plays well

I have always been the serious one. I gravitate toward people who love play, but my natural tendencies lean toward cynicism and somberness. Imaginative play has never been something that I excel at, so I have a slightly complicated relationship with media that puts that at the center. I want to love it, but it’s not always easy for me to get on board. So I had some trepidation about John Krasinski’s newest film, “IF.”

 Bea (Cailey Fleming) loses her mother at a young age, forcing her to grow up too fast. When her Dad (John Krasinski) returns to the same hospital for surgery, Bea stays with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw), where she endured her mother’s hospital stay. One night, she sees a strange creature running up the stairs, and she follows after, only to discover an entire world of forgotten imaginary friends, or “IFs,” living in the apartment above her grandmother. Bea decides to help Cal (Ryan Reynolds) with his quest to find each of these IFs a new child to bond with. 

One might not be entirely sure who this movie was made for. It is far more introspective and slow-paced than the typical children’s movie, but it is filled with color, wonder and imaginative scenes not found in most films geared toward adults. It must be concluded that this movie was made for the inner child in each adult present. And it achieves this beautifully. 

The cast for this film absolutely understood the assignment. We have voice acting from Louis Gossett, Jr., Steve Carell, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, George Clooney, Bradley Cooper and many more, but none feel like they are competing for attention. Both Carell and Reynolds can be a lot on screen, but they turned in performances that were far more understated and subdued, serving the story. This is a stacked cast, but despite the star power, the standout is decidedly Fleming as the daughter. She has a natural charisma that was dazzling to watch. 

Beyond the performances, the story was poignant without crossing over terribly much into saccharine. As we begin to see the power of imaginary friends and the comfort that many take from their presence  —  when comfort is in short supply in the real world — that’s when the movie finds its footing. Krasinski isn’t afraid to take his time rolling out this story, and that patience pays off in some genuinely profound ways. There is a dramatic beat near the end that feels a bit gratuitous and unnecessary, but beyond that, the movie is charming. 

One of the biggest takeaways for me in this film was the reminder that kids need space to play and have fun  — in part because kids also have to deal with hurt and disappointment in the world. Allowing kids to find opportunities for play allows them opportunities to process grief. As much as this movie shows the necessity of imaginary friends, “IF” also highlights the need for adults who are willing to engage with the kids in their lives and remember that they are real people. 

Alise Chaffins is a Morgantown writer who loves movies and sharing her opinions. She reviews a movie from a streaming service every Saturday and one newly in theaters every Sunday. Find more at MacGuffin or Meaning on Substack.