TIFF2013 release directed by Michael Dowse, The F Word attempts to find an answer to the question as old as time – can a man and a woman be just friends?
Who wouldn’t want to know that?
So, the story… Boy goes to the party. Boy meets girl. Boy falls for the girl. Girl has a boyfriend. Girl wants to be just friends.
This is exactly what happens to Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan) in the new romantic comedy with a surprisingly fresh take on friendship between a man and a woman.
Wallace is a med school dropout who lives in his sister’s attic and has no idea what he wants to do with his life. Heartbroken after the breakup with his girlfriend that happened a year prior to the events of the film, he goes to his best friend Allan’s (Adam Driver) party where he meets Allan’s cousin Chantry. They hit it off instantly – you could practically see the sparks flying right there and then! Except Chantry is in a long term relationship with Ben (Rafe Spall) and as charming as Wallace is – we’re talking ‘painfully awkward’ charming – she wants to be just friends.
Wallace and Chantry end up having a lot in common and as the time goes by, Wallace’s feelings for Chantry grow stronger. Things get even more complicated when Ben goes to Ireland on a six-month contract and she ends up spending even more time with Wallace. Eventually Chantry begins to recognizes her own feelings for Wallace, however confusing they are. This is also when she is offered a promotion, which implies having to move to Taiwan and she needs to figure out if she should accept it or not. Confused, Chantry goes to Dublin to have a talk with Ben about their future.
In Ireland she finds out that Ben was offered to stay in Dublin for 6 more months– and he sort of agreed, without talking to her. Ouch! In the meantime, back in Toronto, Wallace finds out that Chantry took off and decides to follow her to Ireland and finally tell her the truth about his feelings. However, when he arrives there, it is Ben’s fist and a flight down the stairs that greet him, so yeah, speak of having a bad day.
Wallace rushes back to Toronto to meet with Chantry a last. She does not, however, fall into his arms. Instead, she gets mad at him and accuses him of lying to her this whole time. Having noting to hold her back, Chantry agrees to move to Taiwan. A bunch of friends throw her a farewell party. With the things being all messed up with Wallace, she doesn’t really expect him to show up although she still hopes he wound. And he does, at the very end when almost everyone is gone, with ‘Fool’s Cold’ – a monstrosity of a PB/Jelly/Bacon sandwich – the exact same one as Chantry made for him in case he came.
Fast forward to 18 months later – Chantry and Wallace come back to Toronto from Taiwan, newly engaged. To each other, obviously. We learn that not only did Wallace follow her but he also went back to med school to complete his degree. The film ends with the two of them stargazing from the rooftop of Wallace’s sister’s house on their wedding day.
I rarely call anything remotely romantically comedic ‘delightful’ but this is exactly that The F Word was – a gem of a film one probably wouldn’t expect it to be. It is not the story, however, that’s been told and re-told numerous times in the past and will be told and retold many times more in the future that made the film so uniquely beautiful but the chemistry between Radcliffe and Kazan that does the magic. The two are natural on screen, both in the comedic bits and their cute awkwardness.
There’s a couple of other things that make The F Word stand out among all the other romcoms, making it one of a kind. First of all it’s the atmosphere, accompanied by a tastefully chosen soundtrack. Both the exterior and interior shots manage to communicate surprising coziness of a big and crazy city instead of focusing on the loneliness of such living.
Second – the characters were very real. Romcoms are often known for creating the kind of reality that makes the male part of the audience cringe and female – sigh with envy. “It can never happen to me,” they think, looking at the polished guys and girls, flashing blinding smiles and whipping perfect hair back and forth. The F Word did not make that mistake, thank God. Both Wallace and Chantry remained relatable-down-to-earth-boy/girl-next-door, no makeover required, which made it really easy to like them and root for them and, weirdly enough, not be insanely jealous of their story. I’d say that this particular aspect of the film became such a rarity these days that we should treasure every time someone makes it happen.
And the last – but not least – thing I appreciated about The F Word was, believe it or not, Chantry’s boyfriend Ben who they didn’t make a douche. We haven’t seen much of him but he, contrary to the rules of the genre, wasn’t a bad guy. In fact, if Chantry did end up with him after all, she’d probably be happy. Obviously we all wanted Wallace to get the girl – after all, he’s THE protagonist, THE main character – but it’s almost impossible not to at the very least sympathize with Ben, which I am grateful for. The world is not made of bad guy and heroes in shining armor. No, it is primarily made of regular people who are sometimes unlucky in love.
As charming as Chantry is and as undeniably talented as Zoe Kazan proves being, with Wallace being the center of the story, Chantry lacks that something that makes a proper self-sustainable character. Together with Wallace, she brings scenes to life. Without Wallace, she’s almost invisible. The senses between Chantry and her sister Dalia (Megan Park) or her colleagues whose names we probably don’t know because we don’t really care seem forced and almost out of place as if they don’t belong in this film at all.
Same goes with Wallace and his relationship with his sister Ellie (Jemima Rooper) and little nephew. Who are they? What’s their deal? Why is he living with them? While the other sides of Wallace’s story appear to be fleshed out enough, this particular one lacks whatever it needs to have to make us invested. Admittedly, Wallace IS multi-dimensional enough to make a great hero of the story, but he could’ve and should’ve had a better background.
In terms of visual storytelling, it was, again, the lack of proper character development that made the cute animated butterfly-girl that was supposed to portray Chantry’s feelings and emotions – and made The F Word stand out among the other films that didn’t use this technique – slightly out of place. It was, however, a nice touch so I’m willing to let it slide.
The film is a must-see.
Once again, it failed to answer the centuries old question – can a man and a woman be just friends? Personally, I think they can. Personally, I find it much easier to be friend with men than woman. Also personally, I think that about 95% of man/woman friendships are one-sided, meaning that at least one of them wants to be something more than just friends. That, however, is just a rough assumption, not supported by anything but some observations and a few years of experience. Undeniably, it’s one of those questions that can’t have a one clear and definite answer.
Regardless of that, The F Word is a feel-good kind of movie that would appeal to both male and female audience members. Radcliffe and Kazan show the new and refreshing sides of them we haven’t seen before, making the film equally sweet and entertaining.