You’ve seen this type of story before, but what if you see it again

The previously mentioned What If, which I really ought to have written about sooner after catching it on the big screen August 17th, served as my final filmgoing as an Ann Arbor resident and final film prior to returning to academic life. It was a fittingly optimistic and fresh finale.

what ifThe contemporary story finds Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan living among people their age in Toronto, which is seen as the hip, multicultural, walkable city it really is. Radcliffe portrays a med school dropout who is disillusioned with life and not finding focus in what he wants. He attends a party one night and starts talking with Kazan, who happens to be a distant relative of his roommate (Adam Driver) although they have not gotten to meet before. The two of them seem to hit it off, and then Kazan’s parting shot of “it was great to meet you, but I’ve got to get home to my boyfriend!” seemingly throws an arrow on the evening.

It would be a short film if they left it at that, and so the rest of the story follows the unlikely couple as they continue to get to know each other better after an initial re-meeting following the party, and whether or not their connection will blossom into something more, and if either of them truly want to get to know each other as more than friends — and possibly change their lives along the way. A subplot develops with Driver’s character settling down with a vivacious blonde (Mackenzie Davis) after several years of serial dating, while Kazan’s sister (Megan Park) casts her own opinion of Radcliffe and the situation, and her boyfriend (Rafe Spall) tries to make sense of it all.

The freshness of the story, from Kazan’s character’s profession (an animator) and Radcliffe’s consistently game, committed approach to his scenes, along with a chirpy soundtrack from AC Newman and appealing emphasis on the real streets and locations of Toronto, kept it engaging, even as it veered towards a somewhat inevitable positive conclusion. And the story didn’t shy from hints of “real world” or “real life” drama, as Kazan worked hard in her portrayal to emphasize the many choices thrown at her character, while Driver and Davis used their limited screen time to give a broad, but charming portrayal of their life as a couple.

And of course it’s great to see Radcliffe getting more comfortable as he continues to put distance from his Harry Potter role. His performance here may be his most engaging non-HP portrayal yet, and he seemed relatable, which is key for a modern comedy-drama/romantic comedy, like he just walked off the screen and down the street outside the cinema.

(I wouldn’t have minded seeing it under its original Canadian title, The F Word, and it’s playing right across the river in Windsor under that guise. No surprise that US audiences don’t like risqué film titles.)


Movies, Theatre

From the archives: Equus in London, March 2007

Intending to write a commentary about Daniel Radcliffe’s recent film What If, I instead found myself recalling when I saw him perform live onstage at the Gielgud Theatre in London, in a role that drew significant media attention. Thankfully, I wrote about the performance on LiveJournal a few days later…

This production lives up to the hype, in nearly all elements. Coming into the Gielgud Theatre with a significantly better seat than when I saw Frost/Nixon, I was immediately struck by the scope of the set. A plain proscenium stage had been turned into an almost theatre-in-the-round style area, with a central elevated level that could be turned if needed surrounded by openings off stage, symbolizing stable doors, and also, perhaps, different tracks of life from which Alan and Dysart could proceed onto when the show concluded. There were also audience members seated above the stage in a semi-circle to continue the effect of observation. Lighting design stood out from the beginning, as the show opened with Radcliffe proceeding centre stage with one of the horses (actually a performer in costume with a large head of a horse) and being symbolically isolated from all, just a kid and his horse.

Richard Griffiths came onstage as soon as the play began and almost never went off, requiring great concentration on his and the audiences parts. But he succeeded in so many ways, stepping in front of Radcliffe’s press-attention (as other reviewers have noted) to deliver a complex portrayal of Martin Dysart, sympathetic psychotherapist. In Griffiths’ hands, Dysart became a warm filter, or magnifying glass, through which the audience could observe and comment on the actions of the play. He also conveyed Dysart’s shifting motivations and impassions over the course of the story. Initially he was eager to take on a new client and thought that he could relatively easily break through to Alan, leaving the job done and the Strang family reunited together again. But in the reality of the narrative, Dysart only continues to be more and more buried in his work, developing more and more distance from what little home life he has and throwing himself into talking with his clients. This predicament was both noble and tragic, and Griffiths’ slightly remorseful line inflictions highlighted his character’s personal challenges throughout the show.

Daniel Radcliffe deserves enormous kudos for being bold enough to step out of the Harry Potter typecasting into a role so different from what his fans (and critics) are accustomed to seeing him in. He almost completely pulled off the part, in my opinion. I’m sure that he could project from experience in the early scenes of Alan demonstrating his jaded-teenagerdom life and his disdain for his family and friends. However, the characterization often seemed to end there. When Alan was supposed to be younger, or more intimate with his friends and family, Radcliffe continued to speak in a forceful tone (not quite a monotone, more of a vocal strain) that showed his built up anguish, but not his scared-ness beneath that anxiety. I wanted to see him dive deeper into the psychological problems that Alan faces. However, I suspect (or hope) that his character investigations might continue as the show’s run goes along. He remained completely committed and in the moment with the stage actions, especially in the scenes that are causing the most controversy. Also, the relationship between him and Richard Griffiths was strongly balance – counterbalanced in their scenes together. At the curtain call it was clear that they are dependent on each other but enjoying the process, as they preceded centre-stage with their arms around each other, like a grandparent-grandson relationship might be.

The rest of the cast was somewhat victimized by the thinly-drawn nature of the supporting characters in the script. However, Jenny Auggiter (as the magistrate), Joanna Christie (as Alan’s girlfriend), and Jonathan Cullen (Alan’s dad) all invested meaningful levels of psychological realism in their portrayals. All three of them carefully balanced a level of character inquiry and being in the moment with a full awareness that in reality there would not be a clear, immediate resolution to the plot.

In conclusion, this version of Equus is a compelling evening of theatre. Although it’s not quite as good as the hype machine may have lead you to believe, it certainly lives up to the publicity, and Griffiths’ and Radcliffe’s double-act stands high as a professional theatre example of actorly collaboration and rich investment in full dramatic art.