Geek Review: IF

Imaginary friends are a special breed of non-existent creatures, a bright spot in an adult-run world that can be overwhelming for a child. There’s just something about these make-believe figures – humans or otherwise – that ooze comfort and warmth, acting as a trusted confidante, a tagalong and chat buddy, or simply a presence to share joy with. 

Geek Review: IF

IF, from actor/director John Krasinki (The Office, Jack Ryan), runs on this familiar premise. Short for “Imaginary Friends”, along with a less-than-veiled reference to what-ifs, it marks a 360-degree turn from his previous work on post-apocalyptic horror film A Quiet Place and its sequel. In lieu of sightless aliens and fear, there are quirky, charming characters and heartwarming nostalgia, culminating into a feel-good romp that reignites the significance of curiosity, imagination, and innocence, albeit predictably. 

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The story follows a young girl Bea (Cailey Fleming, The Walking Dead) who unexpectedly gains the ability to see imaginary friends, known as IFs, who have been abandoned by the kids they previously connected with and helped. Upon discovering that her adult neighbour, Cal (Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool), has the same superpower, the pair join forces to reunite the IFs with their creators.

Geek Review: IF (2)

It’s as straightforward as things can get, featuring a linear narrative with little to no plot twists. At 104 minutes, the fantasy comedy also makes for a quick entertaining watch, even if the pacing is a bit uneven at times. There lies beauty in this simplicity, however, and the strong cast proves highly competent in translating scripted ideas onto the silver screen, be it through live-action or voice-acting. 

To get a sense of star power in IF, here’s a brief look at part of the roster: Steve Carell (The Office, Despicable Me), Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, Oppenheimer), Matt Damon (Bourne Legacy, The Martian), George Clooney (Batman & Robin, Gravity), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, Guardians of the Galaxy), Keegan-Michael Key (The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Hotel Transylvania 2), and more. Most of these appearances serve as minor supporting roles, but their voices – which breathe plenty of personality into the characters – are distinct enough to set them apart from others. 

Geek Review: IF (3)

Indeed, the film brings an eclectic mix of imaginary figments to life. Blue, voiced by Carell, delights as a furry ball of lively energy and exasperation, and despite its name, is purple, because the child who conjured it up has colour blindness. While not necessarily important to the grand narrative, these backstories inject a more endearing, human touch into the incorporeal entities that are deemed real by the younger ones.

And with kids, the imaginative space is a playground for all sorts of creations. There are conventional companions like Unicorn, portrayed by Krasinki’s wife and mother of his children, Blunt; Sunny, a flower that Damon plays; astronaut Spaceman (Clooney); and Ally, an alligator (Maya Rudolph of Saturday Night Live fame), joined by more unorthodox IFs, including Blossom, an excitable humanoid butterfly (Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag), and a personal favourite, a glass of ice water called Ice (Cooper).

This colourful jumble of personalities leads to some entertaining interaction between them, though the pitfall of having an ensemble cast still applies here. Inevitably, some characters won’t get the same amount of spotlight as the others, but when they do, IF demonstrates the deft ability to seamlessly blend their computer-generated (CG) forms into the real world, headlined by Fleming and Reynolds. 

As the live-action leads, the duo commands attention with their easy on-screen chemistry. Bea and Cal’s working relationship starts out on a wary note, but it doesn’t take long for them to thaw out and acknowledge their highly-compatible dynamic – often accentuated through friendly banter and exasperation on the grown-up’s end. Bea, undergoing a troubling experience in her life, slowly forms a connection with the imaginary friends, learning to find comfort in the presence of others and hold on to childhood delights, while navigating the transition to (young) adulthood. 

Suffice to say, relationships are one of the movie’s central focuses. At its best, IF strikes a nuanced balance between lighthearted moments and emotional highs, subjecting audiences to warm fuzziness and the pang of forgotten joys, especially during reunion scenes. The relationship between Bea and her father, played by Krasinski, is charmingly endearing, with the latter serving as to Bea’s more poised demeanor in a reversal of roles. 

There are times, however, where the pace of storytelling can feel a little rushed. For instance, Bea’s quick and easy acceptance of her matchmaking role (that is, to reunite the IFs with their former kids) feels at odds with her circumstances and initial caution, which also carries over to the relationship with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw, Killing Eve). 

The maturation of their dynamics may have set the stage for one of the most poignant and heartwarming scenes in the film, courtesy of Shaw’s acting chops, but it doesn’t pan out as naturally as expected. Still, these minor flaws can be easily ignored – IF is a family-friendly adventure best enjoyed without nitpicking, ultimately delivering on humourous fun, welcome nostalgia, and emotional sincerity. 

A commendable shot at branching into original narratives, Krasinski’s latest pads a straightforward, light story with a melting pot of feelings, dishing out the reminder to rediscover lost childhood joys, and to hold on to them even as an adult.

IF opens 16 May in theatres.



IF represents a refreshing dive into the hybrid animated/live-action territory through the strong lens of sentimentality, even if (pun intended) it doesn’t tell the most memorable story.

  • Story - 6.5/10
  • Direction - 7.5/10
  • Characterisation - 7.5/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 7.5/10