TIFF Review: 'The F Word'

The thing about movies that concern themselves with the matter of whether or not men and women who share a mutual attraction can be friends, is that such stories ultimately decide to ignore the question, answering “no” by virtue of not directly answering it at all. At a certain point, a certain rom-com velocity takes hold and the characters speed towards the resolution that most conveniently and most completely satisfies the narrative at hand. Kiss, fade out, credits, let someone else deal with the hard part. At the end of the day, “happily ever after” is a movie, “content but suffering in silence until the drinking gets out of control” is a movie that only gets financed in Europe.

Be that as it may, while the ceiling is rather low for this kind of thing, the best films that broach this subject tend to succeed by honoring the social contract of their premise – “The F Word” would be commendable on the strength of its unusual wit and warmth alone, but it becomes a far more satisfying (even somewhat illuminating) experience because it doesn’t shy away from the often ugly psychology engendered by cross-gendered friendships. On the contrary, and without deviating from the expected rom-com trajectory, the film pointedly invites viewers to consider the concessions they make and lies they tell both themselves and each other in order to sustain the platonic ideal of the platonic ideal.

Once upon a time in Toronto, a young man named Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) met cute with a moon-faced girl named Chantry (Zoe Kazan), which is apparently a name that a girl can have. He is recently heartbroken and spiraling into despair, while she is a rising animator (natch) with an enviable career and a significant other (Rafe Spall plays Ben, Chantry’s boyfriend of five years). What begins as a casual game of refrigerator poetry quickly evolves, as if by fate, into the stuff of a most torrid friendship. The chemistry between Wallace and Chantry is undeniable and seemingly self-evident, but they both insist that their dynamic is strictly nonsexual, even though their friends and relatives can of course see right through it (Adam Driver plays Wallace’s best mate, and Megan Park pops up as Chantry’s horny sister).

As is so often the case with stories like this, everything is sunshine and roses until one of the involved parties realizes that they’ve been deceiving themselves in order to maintain appearances and keep hope alive. For the most part, “Goon” director Michael Dowse is happy to go through the motions, justifiably confident that the rare verve and considerable charm of Elan Mastai’s script will revitalize some very familiar beats (it should be noted that the screenplay was adapted from T.J. Dawe’s play “Toothpaste and Cigars”, and that the film involves neither toothpaste nor cigars). Wallace and Chantry banter with the usual indie rhythms, but Kazan and Radcliffe elevate the potty-mouthed patter into veiled expressions of hope, doubt and devotion, and “Goon” fans will appreciate how Dowse once again knows just the right spots to insert some unexpected and deviously hilarious physical comedy.

But what elevates “The F Word” from an above-average romantic comedy to a movie worthy of being embraced by a generation of twenty somethings is that Dowse doesn’t let his characters off the hook. The film doesn’t throw any major curveballs, but it resists caricature whenever possible (Chantry’s boyfriend is kinda violent, but he remains pivotally likable), and it forces Wallace and Chantry to confront their selfishness, and eventually consider the dark side of their secret agendas. The consequences for their mutual misgivings are not particularly dire, but every aspect of the story dissects the destructive psychology of platonic pining in one way or another. Tack on an energetic score by The New Pornographers’ A.C. Newman and some great shots of Toronto that aren’t actually trying to pawn the city off as New York, and you’ve got a winning rom-com about two people who convincingly create something too good to lose.

SCORE: 7.2 / 10