IF movie review: John Krasinski’s tender drama, with Steve Carell voicing imaginary friend Blue, a film for all the family

3/5 stars

A soft-hearted family film, IF is the brainchild of actor-turned-director John Krasinski, whose last directorial outings were A Quiet Place and its sequel, the squeamish horror thrillers about an invasion of creepy alien beasts that react to sound.

IF has some creatures in it too, although very much of the fluffy, cuddly kind. ‘IF’ stands for ‘Imaginary Friend’ – invisible to all but the child they are paired with.

The New York-set film begins with Krasinski’s widowed father about to undergo an operation, meaning his only child, 12-year-old Bea (Cailey Fleming), has to move in with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw) during this difficult time.

“Sometimes life doesn’t have to always be fun,” she says, somewhat wise beyond her years. But the fun does start when Bea catches a glimpse of a curious, doll-like creature, Blossom (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), in her gran’s building.

Blossom is one of the IFs, living alongside a hairy purple beast named Blue (voiced by Steve Carell), “the most adorable train wreck” as he is dubbed, and others.

Overseeing them all is Cal (Ryan Reynolds), a mysterious human who soon ropes Bea into their ragtag group – a matchmaking agency to pair up IFs who have been abandoned by their kids, who have grown too old for imaginary friends.

Blossom (left, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Cailey Fleming in a still from IF.

So begins a super-cute story of “What if?”, as Bea helps out while also dealing with the very real fear of losing her father.

No question, IF has some remarkable talent behind the camera to bring this alive, including Janusz Kaminski, Steven Spielberg’s regular cinematographer, and the Oscar-winning composer of Up, Michael Giacchino, whose work here is really tender.

There’s even a touching vocal performance, as ageing bear Lewis, from veteran actor Louis Gossett Jnr, who died in March.

Quite whether IF will appeal to its target audience is hard to say. It feels too sentimental for older children in this modern age, while younger kids may find it too slow-moving and dialogue-driven compared to the rapid-fire animations that are pinged at them these days.

Cailey Fleming (left) and Blue (voiced by Steve Carell) in a still from IF.

That said, they will love Blue, a super-cute creation – and fans of The Office will surely rejoice at the reunion of Carell and Krasinski. There is also something to be said for IF’s valiant attempt to deliver an old-fashioned family film, one that mixes live action and CG animation.

Is it a classic in the making? Not quite. But Krasinski knows how to tell a story, and his confidence behind the camera is growing with every film.

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