IF review: "John Krasinski's twee tale is long on imagination but sadly short on ingenuity"

if movie
(Image: © Paramount Pictures)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

A celebration of fantasy friends, Krasinski’s twee tale is long on imagination but sadly short on ingenuity.

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After the basement-bear horrors of Imaginary, along comes John Krasinski’s more family-friendly ode to childhood fantasy. Warm and well-intentioned but frankly sappy, IF centres on Bea (Cailey Fleming), a tween who lost her mother in early childhood and is now bravely facing her father’s upcoming heart surgery. 

As if that weren’t enough to deal with, quirky animal/food/toy characters that apparently only Bea can see (like Phoebe Waller-Bridges’ creepy ant-girl Blossom) have started making trouble around her. A possible solution arises when grumpy, wisecracking neighbour Cal (Ryan Reynolds) - who shares Bea’s ability - co-opts her into matchmaking the needy IFs (Imaginary Friends) with new kids to replace their grown ones. 

With its big, bumbling, Monsters, Inc. lookalike Blue (voiced by Steve Carell), IF badly wants to be a live-action Pixar movie, but its creaky, CGI-augmented world-building isn’t smart or cohesive enough (the Home for Retired IFs in Coney Island, for example, is a one-note, sub-Toy Story gag about longing for lost kids).

The sluggish story doesn’t help either, as Bea auditions clunkily adorable IFs in a blink-and-you'll-mis-it set of starry cameos (Matt Damon, George Clooney, Amy Schumer, plus innumerable others) that decorate rather than drive the narrative. 

By the time we’ve discovered that adults also need IFs to help them in tough times (Fiona Shaw’s quaint Irish granny assists here), the film has become a rather soppy hymn to the power of imagination. IF is obviously aiming to be an E.T.-style family classic about kids and creatures on a healing journey. But its sticky sentimentality keeps it mawkish rather than magical.

IF releases in UK cinemas and US theaters on May 17.

Freelance Writer

Kate is a freelance film journalist and critic. Her bylines have appeared online and in print for GamesRadar, Total Film, the BFI, Sight & Sounds, and WithGuitars.com.