IF Sparks Imagination and Memories

IF movie review
Louis Gossett Jr. (Lewis), left, and Cailey Fleming (Bea) star in Paramount Pictures' "IF."

Certain things seem to be left in childhood, and one of them is your imaginary friend. Not all kids have them, but the ones that do outgrow them at some point, and are just a memory of the past. But in the new movie IF, they’re not as forgotten in the world as adults would like to think they are.

IF follows a young girl named Bea, who finds herself once again at her grandmother’s in New York City while her father has a medical procedure. They don’t really say what exactly is wrong with him, except he’s having a procedure and has a broken heart. They also don’t have him hooked up to a lot of equipment that could be scary for younger kids, except for an IV bag. But his procedure and being in the hospital is triggering for Bea, since it takes her back to a few years before when her mother was sick and dying in the hospital. The opening of the movie falls just short of Pixar’s UP’s heart-wrenching one, by leaving out some of the specifics. And while the loss of Bea’s mother and her father’s sickness plays a big part of her story, they seem like heavy anchors in a movie that is a bit lighter overall. On one hand, it’s good for children who have lost a parent or have a sick one to see a family like theirs on the screen, but it also seems that Disney has enough of these stories that this could have been removed from a movie that has a good message otherwise. Chances are most younger viewers wont even notice this, but it will be more of emotional punch for the parents watching the movie with their kids.

Ryan Reynolds and Cailey Fleming star in Paramount Pictures’ “IF.”

While Bea’s father is in the hospital, she’s staying at her Grandmother’s place again – a place loaded with memories of her last stay. And while she protests that she’s outgrown childish things, she finds herself following a creature-type thing in the building and falling into the world of IFs. Bea seems to be on the precipice of growing up and doesn’t want to admit that she’s still close to a child as well. And the IFs are there to remind her (and others) of the better parts of her childhood.

What are IFs? The movie explains that it stands for Imaginary Friends or “What IF”. They are the imaginary friends of children, and after kids outgrow them for one reason or another have created a community with the help of Cal (Ryan Reynolds), and are trying to find a new kid to be an imaginary friend with. When Bea finds the IFs, she hops in to help Cal to find the IFs new children. But it isn’t as easy as they would think.

Fiona Shaw, left, and Cailey Fleming star in Paramount Pictures’ “IF.”

What happens to the IFs if they have no kid in their lives? They end up in a retirement center hidden under Coney Island where they live out the rest of their days. This is similar to Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends (2004), but the only kid who knows it exists is Bea at this point. She uses her creative talents to create profiles for each of the IFs so she can hopefully partner with future kids. The similarity to the cartoon series is something that parents may recognize as they watch the movie.

There are a couple of issues with IF overall. The first is how the character of Bea is handled by her family. She’s treated like she’s older, and at the ripe old age of twelve, she’s allowed to come and go as she pleases. Not only can she go down to the corner store in New York City by herself, but she’s able to take the train to Coney Island and back, spending the day and hours away from her Grandmother’s place without little repercussion. Sure, it’s a movie, and it shows how independent she is, but in today’s world? It’s that disconnect from reality that probably is one of the biggest issues. We’re on board with Imaginary Friends but not purposely endangering a child.

Another issue that some parents may have with the movie is there is some cussing in the film. Not a ton, and mostly damn and hells tossed in once in a while. But if the movie is targeted at children (and rated PG), should it be there at all? It makes you question who the target audience for the movie is – kids or their parents. Or is it trying to cross that line and make it so they can share that childhood magic again with their kids? It’s almost like the movie doesn’t quite know who they want as their audience, or at least the audience a bit confused on it.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Blossom), left, and Cailey Fleming (Bea) star in Paramount Pictures’ “IF.”

But IF does highlight some things that weren’t expected. While visiting her father at the hospital, Bea meets a little boy named Benjamin. He’s one of the first kids she tries to partner with an IF and doesn’t have any luck. Benjamin doesn’t have an imaginary friend, and that’s ok. No matter what she tries, he can’t see the IFs or make a connection. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with him, and it’s actually pretty normal for kids to not have an imaginary friend. So in this gentle way, the movie lets younger viewers know that it’s OK to not have an imaginary friend, even if you want one.

The movie does have a lot of laughs throughout, and with Ryan Reynolds as the headliner for the film that’s to be expected. Its biggest disservice is probably the heavy medical stuff and parental loss, but it almost makes sense within reason. IF wont be the big family draw movie for a lot of people, but it’s one that a lot of kids and parents may relate to.

IF is in theaters everywhere this weekend.

Overall Rating

Three and a Half Stars Review

About IF

From writer and director John Krasinski, IF is about a girl who discovers that she can see everyone’s imaginary friends – and what she does with that superpower – as she embarks on a magical adventure to reconnect forgotten IFs with their kids.


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