What If, the latest Filipino romance movie on Netflix, uses a very familiar narrative trope. It starts with a woman, visibly sad, walking alone on a deserted beach while contemplating a life-altering decision that she has made. She has left the man, she loves, because she feels, she is not good enough for him. That’s what we get from her inner monologue. The story then goes back to a time when things were much happier; everything was bright and sunny. Even the Color Grade changes from vibrant to morbid. There are both Advantages and Disadvantages to using this narrative style. The audience keeps wondering, how the situation changed so drastically for the character, which effectively keeps them glued to the movie till the end. The downside of this is the burden of delivering something substantial and making sense of the opening scene simultaneously. What If does try to pull it off, but at the end of the day, it fails to make much of an impact.
It is not that this movie is particularly bad. The issue with What If is that the movie is extremely bland. There is no flair in the narrative. You keep watching it, but you never really feel anything emotionally, which is the movie’s primary agenda. One might think, that with the kind of content he had in hand, director Manny Palo didn’t have much to do. But I don’t think that’s the case. The premise of What If is quite interesting, I would say. A newlywed couple goes to an island for their honeymoon and gets stranded thanks to a storm. As the storm goes on, they discover several cracks in their apparently picture-perfect relationship, which puts the seemingly great marriage under the threat of ending.
With a story like this, there are endless possibilities. So many interesting things can be done, and the narrative can be presented in a very personal, engaging manner that directly hits the audience in the gut. We don’t have to look beyond Netflix, as Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is on the same platform for viewing. Baumbach’s film was contextually different from What If, but it also had a couple in a topsy-turvy marriage at the center of it, and thanks to a superbly crafted narrative, a brilliant screenplay, and terrific acting from its lead actors, that film managed to do exactly what What If couldn’t. In many ways, it feels like a two-hour-long commercial, where everything is done in a boring, structural way. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration, if I said maybe What If needed to be a little desanitized in order to soar.
It was actually painful to see, how so many golden opportunities were wasted. For example, the guy, Jecs, is shown as this validation-obsessed musician who keeps updating his life on social media for his followers. Considering this issue is very relevant, as I often find myself watching content like exactly what Jecs shares for hours and then go on an endless guilt trip, a whole movie could have been made about this. Instead of that, they just touched on it and didn’t do much about it. In stark contrast with Jecs, the other half of the couple, Billie, doesn’t seem too interested in sharing her life with people on social media. Billie is very content with her personal life remaining her own, and her space not being invaded. There is also a daddy-issue subplot as well, where it is revealed that Billie was both abandoned and abused by her celebrity father, who also happens to be a musician. That kind of childhood is bound to scare someone and affect their life as an adult, which does happen to Billie, as she starts questioning, if she is fit to be in a marriage or, most importantly, a parent. Jecs being a toxic Mama’s Boy also works as one of the many reasons behind the couple’s conflict. With such mature themes, you would expect the movie to be dramatic and impactful, but strangely, it is neither. The director’s choice to contain this in risk-free, bland territory is something that I find astonishing as well as frustrating.
Things could have still worked out, if there was any proper chemistry between the two leads, who are played by actors Alessandra De Rossi and JM de Guzman. The two of them, despite trying really hard, fail to ignite any spark, which is always a basic necessity for any romantic movie. Another aspect, where the movie falters, is the lack of memorable music. Given that Jecs and Billie are musicians and it is a huge part of the formation of their relationship, What If needed to be musically impactful, which is clearly not the case here. It is futile even to talk about the direction and screenplay, but what particularly bothered me was the use of montages in order to show us how the relationship between Jecs and Billie happened in the first place. I’m not saying montages are always bad, but in this particular case, they are the result of lazy writing. With a screenplay like that, the director also can’t do much, especially when he lacks the vision himself.
I do believe, that all kinds of movies have at least some takers. Even bad movies work out as a form of entertainment, where you often watch something as unintentional comedy. I myself have a penchant for such things. But the problem here is that, thanks to a considerable amount of genuine effort, What If doesn’t hit the mark of atrociously bad, so you don’t really get any sort of entertainment value out of it. At best, the movie can be watched when you absolutely don’t have anything else to do, but there are chances of you falling asleep while this keeps playing in the background. But if that doesn’t happen and you are still in the mood for some passable romantic comedy to pass your time, then I suggest you give a try to the 2013 Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan film of the same name.