IF. John Krasinski’s Home for Imaginary Friends [REVIEW]

Watching “IF,” the little ones in the theater will long for “Paw Patrol” or “Spider-Man,” and to be honest: I found myself missing them too.

Jan Brzozowski

19 May 2024

Have you ever tried to imagine what Pixar films would look like as live-action versions? John Krasinski apparently did, and the result of his musings turned out to be *IFs*. In this film, the surreal, imagined world blends with reality in a manner similar to *Luca*, *Turning Red*, or *Soul*. The opening scene mimics the memorable montage sequence from *Up* – the theme of death and coming to terms with the loss of a loved one plays a crucial role here, establishing the plot and background of the main character. Michael Giacchino plays around on the soundtrack, referencing his compositions from *The Incredibles*, and the whole film ultimately turns out to be a grand metaphor for growing up – truly inside out. However, despite being built from similar elements and on similar foundations, Krasinski’s film fails to come close to the quality presented by the iconic studio’s productions, even those on the lower tier.

Bea (Cailey Fleming), like many film children, does not have an easy life. Death hangs over her family. Her mother died of cancer, and her father (John Krasinski) has a heart condition and is due to undergo major surgery in a few days that will determine his fate. Because of this, Bea moves to New York and lives with her kind grandmother (Fiona Shaw). Exploring her grandmother’s apartment building leads her to meet the wild tenants from the upper floor: Calvin (Ryan Reynolds) and a group of fantastic creatures, the titular IFs. IFs are akin to physical remnants of childhood – imaginary friends who used to accompany kids in their play. However, the kids grew up, traded the sandbox for corporate jobs, and forgot about their imaginary companions in the meantime. Calvin’s task is to find new partners for the IFs – and the main character decides to help him with this.

Pixar’s greatest strength has always been its scripts – simple, deeply universal stories built around an interesting narrative framework often referred to as high concept. *IF*, on the other hand, is merely a collection of ideas. An outline of a story stretched to full feature length. There are many plot holes begging to be filled. Throughout the film, the viewer wonders why the IFs need to find new owners at all. Most of them live in a foster home for imaginary friends – a guesthouse hidden inside an old carousel on Coney Island – and seem to be having a great time. Will the IFs disappear like Bing Bong from *Inside Out* if they lose their bond with a human? We don’t know, because no one bothers to explain the rules of the depicted world. Thus, we meander through New York with Bea and Calvin without much purpose, as if the company of fluffy creatures could compensate for the pervasive boredom. This film lacks a fundamental element of a good script – emotional stakes. The father’s illness could serve as the stakes, but the fantastic elements push this subplot to the very margins – and we feel from the start that the character will survive. Let’s be honest: probably only Gaspar Noé would be cruel enough to kill off both parents in a children’s film.

The message of *IF* is very simple, but to get to it, we have to endure 100 minutes of the film: it’s about nurturing your inner child. Avoiding drawing a definitive line between childhood and adulthood. Sometimes circumstances force us to grow up faster, though. Bea is in just such a situation: she is twelve years old but has gone through more emotionally than many twenty- or thirty-year-olds. Naturally, the creatures should serve as a psychological escape, helping her cope with trauma – the death of her mother and her father’s serious condition. None of that happens: Krasinski does not follow the noble path set by *Pan’s Labyrinth* or *A Monster Calls*. He prefers colorful musical sequences, slapstick Ryan Reynolds, and a sugary-fluffy aesthetic. He aims for Pixar but misses how serious and ambiguous the studio’s films can be. Each of them has something to offer both young and adult viewers. In contrast, *IF* will prove too sentimental and naive for adult viewers. For younger viewers, it’s too slow-paced and excruciatingly drawn out. Kids in the theater will long for *Paw Patrol* or *Spider-Man*, and to be honest: I missed them too.

While watching *IF*, one fundamental question kept bothering me: why? Why did John Krasinski, after directing two acclaimed horror films, *A Quiet Place* and *A Quiet Place Part II*, suddenly turn to family cinema? The answer turned out to be simpler than I thought: for his children. Specifically, his two daughters – Violet and Hazel. In an interview with CBS, the director admitted that the girls were delighted with *IF*. “Those were the two most important thumbs up I received.” Very nice, great stuff. It’s just a shame that all the other viewers, regardless of age, had to suffer so much for those thumbs up.

Janek Brzozowski

Jan Brzozowski

Permanently sleep-deprived, as he absorbs either westerns or new adventure cinema at night. A big fan of the acting skills of James Dean and Jimmy Stewart, and the beauty of Ryan Gosling and Elle Fanning. He is also interested in American and French literature, as well as soccer.

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