IF is an example of a weak movie that makes for a great trailer. When you see all – and I mean all - of the funny parts crammed together in a two-and-a-half-minute trailer, it looks like a total blast. Watching the movie in its entirety is a different experience, though. Writer/director John Krasinski clearly has good intentions in telling this fantastical story. His execution trips up those intentions. Parents should be prepared for their kids to turn to them and say, “Why isn’t this movie as funny as it looked like it was going to be?”

Twelve-year-old Bea (Cailey Fleming) is having a rough spot in life. Her mother is dead, and her father (Krasinski) is in the hospital for unspecified heart surgery. While staying with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw) in a NYC brownstone, she meets Cal (Ryan Reynolds), a guy who runs a business pairing imaginary friends, or IFs, with real kids. Due to her own troubles, Bea can see all of them, including a purple fuzzy creature called Blue (voiced by Steve Carell). She becomes determined to help Cal team them up with children who could use a pal to lean on.

Partway through the film, I realized that most of the IFs are kind of stupid. Among them are a banana, a bubble, and a glass of ice water. Sure, they’re humorously animated, which is why they’re funny in the trailer, but what kid has a glass of ice water as an imaginary friend? The characters are conceived more for visual goofiness than for practicality. Consequently, the plot’s central premise about IFs being of vital importance to children in need of emotional support rings hollow. It’s impossible to believe these characters served any sincere purpose.

This also leads to a much bigger problem. Krasinski is clearly aiming for that patented early-Spielberg tone of wonder and awe. Instead, scenes of broad, wacky comedy rub up against heavy-handed scenes of sentimentality. There are actually as many, if not more, of the latter. The film devises a handful of sequences designed to tug at your heartstrings. Such sentimentality is unearned because the stuff we’re asked to care about, like Bea’s grandmother’s past as a dancer, is thrown in haphazardly, with insufficient set-up. Going back and forth between silly animated antics and cloying moments of heart-tugging makes IF feel disjointed.

Otherwise, the picture is harmless and inoffensive. A few scattered pleasures can be found amid the chaotic tone. Fleming is a fine young actress who makes a likeable heroine. Carell does amusing voicework as Blue, as does the parade of guest stars portraying IFs. George Clooney, Emily Blunt, and Sam Rockwell are just three examples. Every once in a while, a clever idea emerges, too, like the payoff to a running bit about an invisible IF.

Those pleasures are not abundant enough to save the picture. A touching movie could definitely be made about imaginary friends and their role in children’s lives. Krasinski never figured out if he was making a comedy or a drama, so he mashes the styles together in a manner that’s ultimately more mediocre than magical.

out of four

IF is rated PG for thematic elements and mild language. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes.


© 2024 Mike McGranaghan