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IF (IMAGINARY FRIENDS)

Written By:

Paul Mount
if

Written, directed, and produced by John Krasinski (who also features in the cast), IF (Imaginary Friends) is a film that doesn’t really seem to know what audience it wants. It’s part Toy Story/Monsters Inc. – big friendly fluffy doofuses and wise-cracking anthropomorphic animals and insects – and it’s part adult wish fulfilment stuff about lost youth, lost innocence, and a yearning to be back in simpler, kinder times. Tearing itself in two directions, IF is a film that’s likely to frustrate both audiences who will find the parts not aimed at them uninteresting, distracting and, at times, downright dull.

Bea (Cailey Fleming) is an almost impossibly cloying 12-year-old whose mother passed away from cancer and who now finds herself staying with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw) at her New York apartment whilst her father (John Krasinksi) is in hospital awaiting heart surgery. She meets up with Cal (Ryan Reynolds), who has an apartment in the same block and a menagerie of colourful creatures who, he explains, are ‘imaginary friends’ abandoned and forgotten by generations of children as they grow up. Bea decides to help Cal in his mission to help match the disenfranchised IFs with new children and, eventually, to evoke memories of their IFs in grown-ups long since swallowed up by the chaos of adulthood.

That’s pretty much it for your plot. Kids may be briefly delighted by the colourful creatures (voiced by the likes of Steve Carroll, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Emily Blunt, George Clooney, Bradley Cooper, Matt Damon, Sam Rockwell, and even Brad Pitt) but as characters, most of them are underdeveloped and don’t really do anything particularly interesting or amusing beyond Carrell’s lumbering Blue. Adults may be charmed by the film’s shameless attempts to tug at the heartstrings by playing the “remember how wonderful and innocent it was to be a kid” card, but there’s nothing else going on here beyond mawkish sentimentalism.  It’s quite an old-fashioned film – refreshing to an extent, perhaps – in that there’s no action, no high stakes, no villain.  But as a consequence, there’s no real drama and absolutely no excitement as the characters just stand around gazing wistfully into the distance or mourning the passing of more innocent times.

Krasinski previously created the thrilling world of A Quiet Place, and this new effort sees him move in an entirely different direction and that’s to be commended. But IF is unlikely to capture the attention of a younger audience because it focuses too heavily on its determination to resonate emotionally with adults at the expense of anything colourful and exciting for the children. Well-intentioned, well-executed and not without the odd moment likely to bring a brief tear to the eye, at the end of the day IF misses the mark because it’s trying to hit two targets but doesn’t have enough to offer to engage with either. Ultimately, it’s a film that commits the cardinal sin of being really rather boring.

IF (Imaginary Friends) is in cinemas now.

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