Fubar. It’s All Gone Pete Tong. Fubar: Balls to the Wall. Goon.
While those film titles may sound foreign to some, Canadian cult moviegoers have really come to embrace the work of Michael Dowse. While he branched off into American cinema with the little seen Topher Grace vehicle Take Me Home Tonight, his work remains very much Canadian. And that is why it is so odd to see him directing a romantic comedy like The F Word. It sounded interesting enough, but could the guy who gave us Fubar really deliver something that needs to be sweet and cheerful? Especially after the casual brutality of Goon? Well, the answer may surprise you.
Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is a bit of a shut-in. He broke up with his girlfriend over a year ago, he dropped out of med school, and now he lives in the attic of his sister’s home in suburban Toronto. At his best friend Allan’s (Adam Driver) party, he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan). They hit it off immediately, and only after walking her home for the evening does Wallace find out she has a long-time boyfriend. So, they decide to be friends, but as their friendship grows, so too do Wallace’s feelings for Chantry.
I will admit that the plot of The F Word does sound pedestrian and obvious in the course it will take, but the film packs in enough fun and emotion that you forget that feeling very early on. The script by Elan Mastai (adapted and expanded from T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi’s play Toothpaste and Cigars) never takes the easy way out and rarely falters in its realistic depiction of Wallace and Chantry’s blossoming romance. It breathes fresh air into a stale genre and while it does fall into obvious traps (and adds in some needless and absolutely bizarre comic sequences for nearly no reason), it manages to avoid just as many. In fact, the dialogue and interplay reminded me a lot of When Harry Met Sally, minus the long timeline and wacky hairstyles.
In terms of the performances, Radcliffe and Kazan have impeccable chemistry on-screen and deliver great work as Wallace and Chantry.
Radcliffe is having a stellar year with audaciously different turns in several great movies, and his work here is no different. It is much more low-key than Kill Your Darlings or Horns, but it still packs the same intensity that the young actor continues to give in each of his post-Harry Potter performances. You can visibly see and feel the pain in his body language, and even when the film’s plot begins to really throw in some stranger elements, Radcliffe never wavers. They easily could have expanded his backstory slightly, but his expressions and emotional reactions do more than their share of heavy lifting. Radcliffe continues to develop with each new performance, and is slowly becoming one of my favourite young actors.
Kazan, while nowhere near as strong as Radcliffe, is sweet and subtle as Chantry. Her work alongside him is excellent and she really makes you feel their chemistry from the very moment they first speak. She is very much the quiet next door type, and she really plays to that archetype well throughout the film. That being said, she seems to struggle when the film tells only her side of the story, focusing too much on the state of confusion within her life and throwing a few too many secondary characters for her to interact with (such as her overbearing and annoying sister Dalia, played all too well by Megan Park). Kazan handles these situations well, but the film has a habit of making us want to skip these character building moments and show us more of her and Radcliffe together.
While Park, Mackenzie Davis and Rafe Spall (as Chantry’s longtime boyfriend Ben) all give great supporting performances, it is Driver who really stands out – threatening to even outshine Radcliffe. He easily transforms the obnoxious best friend role into something truly wonderful to watch. He is consistently hilarious, and surprisingly deep in some scenes. And even more surprisingly, he gets the most laughs through his absolutely deadpan delivery. While his schtick is bordering on an indie Danny McBride, he is truly loveable and memorable in this role.
I am hesitant to say it, but the majority of issues I hold with the film lie within the process of it still being unfinished. Chantry is an artist and animator, and frequently the film stops or focuses on animations showcasing her feelings and emotions. While I like the idea in theory, it really seems like just an odd cutesy thing that Dowse and his crew added in to make the film feel different from other romantic comedies. It could look and feel a lot different upon completion, but I think Kazan does a good enough job in her scenes that we do not really need the extra emphasis. Much the same goes for the ending, which has been extended since the film’s debut at TIFF in September. It offers a lot more closure and clarity than the film’s original ending, but loses its uniqueness in the process.
Overall, I enjoyed The F Word for what it was, despite some of its shortcomings. While it has its share of unique elements that make it stand out from other romantic comedies, it does falter in many other areas. Thankfully, the film is saved by great chemistry from Radcliffe and Kazan as the two leads, and an absolutely hilarious supporting performance from Driver, making it more than worth your time.