I think it’s time to re-evaluate what made A Quiet Place such a good movie. Yes, it featured wonderful performances from John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, in addition to what should’ve been a starmaking turn from Millicent Simmonds. Yes, it had a fantastic horror gimmick delivered with phenomenal sound design. But most of all, the film was a marvelous fable about emotions. It was a movie all about dealing with fear and loss, the human need for connection and communication, when to bottle up emotions and when to let them out in a primal scream.

All of this was so powerful and so poignantly delivered that nobody cared about the world-building. The lethal threat could’ve been aliens or mutants or robots or flying spaghetti monsters for all the difference it would’ve made. The film didn’t bother telling us how or why the aliens came or what they were doing here or how they worked, and none of that mattered. Nobody ever gave a shit.

Yes, I look forward to revisiting this particular rant when A Quiet Place: Day One comes out next month. In the meantime, here’s IF, which further doubles down on John Krasinski’s strengths as a filmmaker in ways that painfully magnify his limitations.

Our protagonist is Bea (Cailey Fleming), a 12-year-old girl who lost her mom to cancer a few years back and now her father (played by Krasinski) is going in for surgery. It’s supposedly a routine procedure, but even the most basic heart surgery (the details are vague, but that’s the implication) is serious business and Bea is deathly afraid of losing a second parent so soon. In the meantime, Bea is staying with her grandmother, played by Fiona Shaw. Let’s pause for a moment here.

No two ways about it, Cailey Fleming is a teenage powerhouse. She anchors this movie with such a profoundly dynamic performance that she near-singlehandedly makes this movie worth watching. Virtually everything good in this movie is primarily good because Fleming sells it so hard.

The other MVP of the cast is easily Fiona Shaw. I can’t remember the last time I saw her play a sympathetic role, but Shaw’s performance here is sweetly endearing to the point of captivating. It’s tough to heap enough praise onto Fleming and Shaw for carrying this cast and powering this movie.

Moreover, this is a movie about a girl who had to grow up at a depressingly young age. We’ve got a coming-of-age story about a kid who has to learn how to have fun and be creative without denying the harsh reality that life can be cruel and depressing. Additionally, we’ve got a young protagonist trying to take the weight of so much grief on her shoulders, coming to accept the necessity of reaching out to friends for emotional support. All of this is a rock-solid premise for a kids’ movie.

Then the first act ends. And Ryan Reynolds comes in with Steve Carell. And it all goes to shit pretty much immediately.

Carell and Reynolds and a sprawling roster of A-list voiceover cameos play imaginary friends (or “IF”s, literally pronounced “ifs”). Trouble is, all of these IFs are invisible because they’ve all been forgotten by their original children. And if the IFs go for too long without a child, they vanish into oblivion.

We’ve got a number of problems here.

First of all, there’s no ticking clock here. We’re left with no idea how long it takes for an IF to disappear if they stay unclaimed. In point of fact, some IFs stay alive and unclaimed for so long — the late Louis Gossett Jr. voices a teddy bear who’s been around for 93 years! — that there’s an honest-to-God retirement home for them hidden under Coney Island. Furthermore, we never actually see an IF disappear at any point in the film.

The upshot is that the stakes for this particular storyline are effectively null. When the filmmakers finally realize this, they switch gears from trying to find new kids for IFs to pairing IFs with their original kids all grown up. Because all obstacles for doing that have suddenly and inexplicably disappeared. What’s worse, this shift in objectives means a shift in theme: Instead of watching a kid coming of age and learning how to grow into a creative and emotionally balanced young woman, we’re watching a bunch of stressed-out adults rediscovering their inner children. Cute, but nowhere near as compelling, and it still doesn’t fix the problem of rock-bottom stakes.

Then we have more broken world-building. If every kid has their own imaginary friend, and every IF was conceived by a different kid, how come there are apparently so many kids without IFs? If a retired IF gets paired with a new kid, what happens to the kid’s prior IF?

At the start of the second act, there’s a door the characters are afraid of opening and some kind of witch the IFs are afraid of. None of this is ever explained or followed up on. Sometimes kids can see the IFs and sometimes they can’t. This is all wildly inconsistent.

Ryan Reynolds is stuck in second gear, playing a character whose name, motivation, and backstory are aggressively concealed to preserve a last-minute reveal that anyone with a brain cell could see coming from an hour away. As a direct result, Reynolds is stuck playing a cynical cipher, unable to really cut loose like we all want from him. Contrast that with Steve Carell, playing a character as obnoxious and cloying and overblown as Michael Giacchino’s score. (Seriously, where in the nine hells is Zach Galifianakis when you need him?!)

Then comes the climax. By this point, it becomes plainly obvious that the filmmakers have lost all sense of what they’re doing. So they slapped together an emotional crescendo, left Fleming to salvage it like the goddamn champion she is, and called it good. Never mind that nothing about the IFs has been resolved, just wrap up the movie and call it good.

IF is not a bad story, just a badly told story. The themes are heartrending, but the world-building is crap. The premise is fantastic, but the plotting is garbage. Fiona Shaw and Cailey Fleming are incredible, but everyone else in the cast (including Krasinski) is either barely present or aggressively hamming it up (typically both).

There’s no doubt in my mind that this movie was made with the best intentions. Alas, it’s the product of a filmmaker who coasts on emotion to the point of neglecting any kind of logic or sense. Unless Krasinski accepts that about himself and either learns to change it or lean into it, he’s destined for mediocrity.


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