Ah, the 20-something romantic comedy. A genre usually filled with twee Emo-soundtrack tunes, magical or manic pixie dreamgirls, and the shuffling boys who win their love through good heartedness. Some are decent, some utterly wretched, but most follow a pretty narrow path.
It’s to Michael Dowse’s credit that The F Word manages to feel so damn fresh, despite the fact that it’s clearly joining a very long line of similar films. A lot of that can be attributed to a highly self-aware, yet never mawkish or overtly ironic script. Toying with the complexities of romantic love, where remaining “just friends” (the “F” word in question) can sometimes be an impossible task, the story feels part documentary, part fable. This balance between what feels real and what feels narratively satisfying is a hard one to make, and the film does an excellent job at threading this needle.
The cast is uniformly excellent, anchored by another fine turn by Daniel Radcliffe playing against Zoe Kazan. Post-Potter, Radcliffe has been making some truly interesting choices, and this film is no exception; he’s frankly exceptional in this role, and entirely convincing. Kazan manages to never delve into caricature, and the likes of Adam Driver and Megan Park join a well rounded ensemble.
The film doesn’t quite rise to Annie Hall levels of insight, but it comes a great deal closer than I would have ever expected it to. Yes, the trajectory of characters is telegraphed, and yes, you know about three minutes in what the conclusion will be, but it’s such a satisfying journey that you don’t really care. There’s genuine chemistry between the leads on screen, and that feeling proves to be infectious.
My views on Dowse’s Goon are well documented, and his direction of characters is once again to be applauded. For this Torontonian, I found the film to be an extraordinary portrayal of this city, a much more authentic look at the city and its environment than I’ve seen in quite some time. Many movies, including those from the likes of celebrated local directors like Atom Egoyan, fall for shooting this city in a few square blocks.
There’s a breadth of environment to the shoot, and it shows the charms of this place in ways that few films have. It may be a small thing – visiting the beach, hanging out in Riverdale and Leslieville, or even going to the Royal cinema – but these are far more authentic experiences of life in this city than the likes of Chloe or the heightened world of Scott Pilgrim‘s, constrained to two blocks of Bathurst and Bloor. Combined with Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, audiences can experience two completely contradictory yet equally exciting portrayals of this city on screen, a city that for decades has stood in for other places but is, at least for these works, portraying itself.
It’s a pretty film, but not overly glossy – the environment that our characters inhabit seems believable, their apartments not something implausible. This anchoring in the real, along with the cutting and frankly delightful dialogue, allows the romantic comedy tropes to feel unforced.
With overt references to the likes of The Princess Bride, whipsnap dialogue and compelling, memorable performances, The F Wordtranscends its formulaic pretenses, resulting in a charming, quite effective film.