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  • Writer's pictureBen Pivoz


Bea (Cailey Fleming) helps Blue (voiced by Steve Carell ) find a new home in IF (Distributed by Paramount Pictures)

Imaginary friends are such an easy topic for fantasy storytellers. Not only could they look like anything, they can also be used to explore any emotion. They can even be utilized in different genres. Earlier this year, we were treated to the horror flick Imaginary, about a little girl who bonds with a malevolent friend in the form of a stuffed bear. It had a few clever ideas, but was neither creative nor scary enough. Now, on the complete opposite side of the spectrum, is IF, a light and fluffy family comedy about a twelve-year-old girl helping a group of lonely imaginary friends (referred to as IFs) find some new people to play with.

It is a bit better at doing what it sets out to do than Imaginary was. It is sweet, intermittently amusing, has a bunch of cute characters and just wants its audience to feel good. Sadly, it isn’t particularly entertaining. The plot and characters are barely developed and the direction is disappointingly flat. This never rises past kind of cute to get to actually interesting. It is an idea without visual magic or real character motivation to propel it forward. It is not actively bad; however, the narrative is far too dull to recommend it.

Bea lost her mother to cancer and is staying with her grandmother while her father is in the hospital for heart surgery. She soon learns that the apartment upstairs is home to a grump named Cal who runs a match-making operation for IFs. Since Bea is the rare human who can see them, she volunteers to help them find homes.

While the premise of IF (97 minutes, without the end credits) theoretically promises fun and whimsy, it doesn’t deliver. Too much of this is rote. It’s paint-by-numbers, with no drama. The thematic fabric is also incredibly thin. There is so little feeling in this. The early scenes, where Bea and the IFs are introduced, are an intriguing mixture of mystery and silliness. That dissipates starting about a half-an-hour in, as this turns into a whole lot of unearned sentiment and a serious lack of setup for these payoffs.

Cal (Ryan Reynolds) and Blossom (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge)

John Krasinski (who appears as Bea’s dad) wrote and directed. It seems like he tried so hard to make something warm and friendly that he neglected to give it any purpose. Nothing has forward momentum here. Individual sequences have a beginning, middle and end, but they don’t combine into much. His direction fails to make any of these creations or their world come to life. There’s a section set in a retirement home for IFs, where Bea uses her imagination to remake the place, good-naturedly annoying Cal in the process. In theory, what is onscreen is cool. Unfortunately, Krasinski doesn’t allow the audience to fully engage with it. Much like IF as a whole, there isn’t a lot of personality to what we see. It is empty imagery that doesn’t feel all that organic, as though it comes from a child’s mind. Krasinski had decent concepts that he struggles mightily to bring to life.

Ryan Reynolds can play charming and sarcastic, with a heart of gold, in his sleep and that seems to be what he is doing here. There is so little energy in his performance that I was never quite able to figure out what we were supposed to think of him. The absence of a clear character arc for him is a problem as well. Reynolds smirks and complains his way through good deeds in a way that is neither irritating nor funny. It’s just there.

The rules are also vague. Do the creatures literally disappear if their children no longer need them? Or do they just feel invisible because they can’t be seen by the one they need the most? Do they have to be connected to any child to survive? Or do they need to reconnect to the specific kid who thought them up? A fantastical world like this requires clear rules so the viewer understands the why, what and how. Missing that, it is adrift. IF is some cuddly pals (voiced by a star-studded cast) and an adorable girl without a lot to do.


2¼ out of 5



Cailey Fleming as Bea

Ryan Reynolds as Cal

Steve Carell as voice of Blue

Phoebe Waller-Bridge as voice of Blossom

John Krasinski as Dad

Fiona Shaw as Grandmother


Written/Directed by John Krasinski


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