Review: 'IF' isn't a perfect movie, but it's a great family night out

Cailey Fleming and the voice of Steve Carell appear in the movie, "IF," about imaginary friends.

Cailey Fleming and the voice of Steve Carell appear in the movie, "IF," about imaginary friends. (Paramount Pictures)

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Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

The concept of an imaginary friend always intrigued me as a kid. Someone you could have by your side all the time. Someone who would always have your back and keep you company. But my brain could never quite conjure up that friend. My imagination was fine — overactive if anything — but my ADHD was the problem.

I could not stop to think long enough to create a friend. When I tried, I got so hyper-focused on it that I got caught up in the minutia of this friend — his backstory, why he's here and what his goals and aspirations are — and I just couldn't make the friend happen.

Fast-forward a few decades and I am now a grown man, pretending to be an adult with his own kids, and watching a movie about imaginary friends.

"IF" is written and directed by John Krasinski and stars Ryan Reynolds and a slew of voice talent, including Steve Carell, Emily Blunt, George Clooney and Maya Rudolph.

Ryan Reynolds and Cailey Fleming star in "IF," a family-friendly movie directed by John Krasinski about imaginary friends.
Ryan Reynolds and Cailey Fleming star in "IF," a family-friendly movie directed by John Krasinski about imaginary friends. (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

The family movie is inventive, heartwarming and funny, but lacks a certain magic. Here are some reasons "IF" is a great friend of family movie night and a couple of reasons it's not your best friend.

The not-so-good

The payoffs are lacking

Let's start with the not-so-great. "IF" sets up several characters who we find ourselves heading toward some much-needed payoffs with them. But when all is said and done, those payoffs feel lackluster. I wouldn't say lackluster for every character, but for several the payoff felt like an afterthought.

We get to like some of these characters and care about how their story plays out. But many of them get ample screen time and then vanish for a chunk of the movie, just to pop up again and wrap up their portion of the story with very little fanfare.

Not every character needs a big story arc with a fully-fledged finale. Still, when there is focus on specific characters, to just abandon them and quickly wrap up their storyline leaves the viewer wanting.

It struggles with pacing

For those who read my reviews regularly, you know I'm a stickler for pacing. If it's a slow burn, that's just fine — but that fuse needs to have an end. If it's a fast-paced storyline, you can have down moments but they need to be well-placed and fit the ongoing tone and direction. "IF" struggles to find its pacing, or even what it wants its pacing to be.

The storie starts off slow, which is fine, but then we quickly meet many characters just to hit the brakes again. Then we're suddenly thrown into a surprisingly long dream sequence, followed by a quick-paced montage, and then a full stop into some slower dramatic moments.

I felt like I was on an amusement park ride going from 100 to zero in the blink of an eye. The starts and stops are OK when planned correctly, but "IF" appeared to be a 15-year-old learning to drive and figuring out the right touch for the gas and brakes.

The good

It's fun

Now, it's time for me to put away my pretentious and over-critical movie critic hat and put on my let's-go-enjoy-a-movie hat. "IF" is a fun movie. It has bright and exciting characters, entertaining story setups and montages, well-timed jokes and a truckload of quirky and lovable IFs.

It's easy to fall in love with all these forgotten IFs and wish you had the imagination to create them when you were a kid, to make them your best buds.

As mentioned earlier, there are some starts and stops to the fun, but overall it's nearly impossible to walk out of the theater without a smile on your face.

It's creative

Whatever "IF" lacks in technical movie-making ability it makes up for with creativity and imagination. From the unique characters to their retirement home, "IF" is a feast for the creative eye.

Krasinski has said this is a movie for his kids and he tapped into his inner child to create a landscape and world that kids — and most of us adults — will love. It feels like you're seeing the world through a child's eyes, and that adds to the magic of the movie.

A certain amount of creativity and clever writing goes into every movie, but "IF" made sure to make that the hallmark of the film, and it pays off.

What my kids thought

I saw the movie with my family, including my 13- and 7-year-old daughters and my 11-year-old son. This is a family movie, after all, and it is made to be enjoyed with your family.

I bring this up because, as we left the theater, my wife and I talked about some of the missteps I have already written about, but our kids looked at us and said, "What are you talking about? We loved that movie!"

The more I saw it through my kids' eyes, the more I realized how much fun this movie was. On the way home from the theater, my teenager passed out cold in the third row, but my 11-year-old and 7-year-old were making up their own IFs and asked if they could stay up late to play.

If a family movie can do that, it's a win in my book.

"IF" is officially rated PG for thematic elements and mild language.

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John has grown up around movies and annoys friends and family with his movie facts and knowledge. He also has a passion for sports and pretty much anything awesome, and it just so happens, that these are the three things he writes about.


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