May 29, 2024

What If 2023 Movie Review

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What If 2023 Movie Review

Billie (Alessandra De Rossi) narrates glumly as she walks along a trash-strewn beach to catch a boat. She’s leaving this island, and we’re about to spend the next two-ish hours finding out why. Flashback to several days prior, when she wasn’t so glum. She and new hubby Jecs (JM De Guzman) are freshly married and ready to honeymoon the living crap out of each other. They get to Panglao Island, a gorgeous locale with crystal waters and beaches lined with tall grasses. We soon learn that Jecs’ reputation precedes him even in this relatively remote locale – “Aren’t you that singer?” he’s asked right off the boat, and indeed he is. His hit is ‘What If,’ a lite-rock strummer that makes John Mayer sound like Slayer. True to the reality of being a musician trying to make a living in 2023, when Jecs isn’t singing or writing songs, he’s hocking name-brand luggage on social media smack in the middle of his damn honeymoon.

Billie isn’t too annoyed by this – not as much as we are, anyway. I guess that’s what happens when you’re sometimes the subject of flattering photos posted on an up-and-coming star musician’s social media, accompanied by HASHTAG PERFECT WIFE and other such flatteries. They smooch and flirt and settle into their rustic, postcard-worthy cottage nestled on a hill overlooking the sea. Jecs’ mother calls, and he indulges her buttisnkyisms; she tells him honeymoons are for making her a grandchild, and he laughs and Billie winces a little and really Mom, can it and let the lovebirds lovebird, all right? Meanwhile, Billie’s father keeps calling and she keeps ignoring it; he skipped the wedding and is an abusive shithead, so she doesn’t want to give the guy her time, and who can blame her?

Don’t forget, this whole thing is a flashback, so the flashbacks to how Billie and Jecs met mean we’re getting flashbacks within flashbacks, which is, like, bordering on Inception-style Russian-doll narrative layering. Billie’s a keyboardist who was hired by Jecs’ producer or manager or whatever to play on one of his recordings, and she was the only one not afraid to give the writer of a big hit track some constructive criticism, from which love bloomed. Back in the almost-present, the happy couple goes island-hopping and does a little freediving and then the cracks start to show. It turns out that Billie can’t conceive a child, which explains why her mother-in-law’s commentary needles her so. And her jealous streak starts to throb when she spots an influencer with boobs out to here routinely liking Jecs’ posts; “She’s just clout-chasing for her vlogs!” Jecs protests as we stifle our laughter. Meanwhile, a typhoon starts bearing down on the island and as the rain and wind batter the house and the power flickers out, the tension between Billie and Jecs simmers and boils. Is the honeymoon over before the honeymoon is over?

The dramatic high point of this story makes a hill of beans look like Kilimanjaro. De Rossi and De Guzman never really kindle a romantic flame, and we therefore fail to be invested in their well-being as a couple. It takes 45 minutes before it feels like anything happens in What If?, which isn’t valid criticism if a movie uses that time to enrich its characters. Yet here, it feels like loitering, in draggy scenes that dole out bits of information about Billie and Jecs that comprise the bare minimum of their personhood. One senses director Manny Palo aiming for realism, for a hangout vibe allowing his actors to find their characters in the basic, unsensational moments of life, and they land on the occasional earnest truth. But the cast seems uninspired and not fully engaged with the material, an indicator of a screenplay in need of another rewrite or three.

The island setting is ripe for lush cinematography, and is a key component of a narrative that’s soon to deploy a doozy of a metaphor when torrential downpours begin, and we wonder if this couple can, you know, “weather the storm” – it’s so on-the-nose, I half expected the typhoon to unleash a deluge of fist-sized hams. Granted, the conflict is rooted in common pitfalls of modern relationships; Billie is mostly content to be childless, while Jecs doesn’t want to exhaust all their options yet, and therefore briefly grazes against the topic of female bodily autonomy. That tantalizing bit doesn’t go anywhere, though, as the story clunks through flashbacks, unconvincing melodrama and a haphazardly plotted, laughably bad conclusion. Even the contingent of fans who glom onto Asian romances is going to find What If? too bland for consumption.

What If 2023 Movie Review