Director Michael Dowse’s rude comedies, such as Fubar and Goon, tend to focus on endearing, obsessive idiots whom you like despite themselves. The rudest thing about The F Word is its title, which refers to “friend,” the word that neutralizes romance.
The movie’s only real offence is that it tries a little too hard to please. Dowse, working with Elan Mastai’s script (which is adapted from T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi’s play Toothpaste and Cigars), hits all the romcom buttons: Two lonely people are drawn together; they have kooky sidekick friends; it all takes place against a lovingly shot urban backdrop (downtown Toronto). The dialogue, no matter who speaks it, is about 85 per cent airy, ironic banter.
Medical-school dropout Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is still in cliché heartbreak mode over his last girlfriend when he meets animator Chantry (Zoe Kazan, the star and writer of Ruby Sparks) at a party. They make up refrigerator-magnet poems together, and then discover they’re leaving the event at the same time. By the time they reach her door, she says they should hang out, gives him her number and then says her boyfriend will be worried because she’s out late.
The next hour and a half of the movie features a lot of dithering and contrivance before that boyfriend – handsome international lawyer but secret cad Ben (Rafe Spall) – gets out of the way. Throughout, there’s no doubt that Wallace and Chantry are whimsical bookends meant to be together on the same shelf. They bond over a love of The Princess Bride and speculations on how much of Elvis Presley’s favourite sandwich was found in his colon after his death.
The F Word (or What If, as it is politely titled south of the border) winks at the genre conventions (recently parodied in David Wain’s They Came Together) of the Manhattan/When Harry Met Sally tradition while completely indulging in them at the same time. Radcliffe is puppyish and good at quick repartee and Kazan has a darting, off-beat intelligence. But why do they act like fumbling 14-year-olds in matters of the heart? After a promising beginning, when Wallace accidentally knocks Ben out a window, he defaults to a kind of clinical passivity. Chantry’s behaviour, officially faithful but emotionally two-timing, passes without comment.
For bumptious contrast, we have Wallace’s horn-dog friend Allan (Adam Driver, delivering the best lines with zing) and his equally raunchy significant other, Nicole (Mackenzie Davis), who provide a taller, libidinous alternative to the diminutive, overcivilized Wallace and Chantry. Their expansive messiness seems altogether more interesting than the main couple. Or, perhaps, we could spend more time with Chantry’s sparky, sarcastic sister Dalia (Megan Park), who makes a move on Wallace that, gentleman that he is, he promptly rejects.
The two leads’ lack of agency begins to feel borderline perverse, like 50 Shades of Romcom Bondage: Wallace and Chantry are trapped in a changing room together while she’s stuck with a dress on her head, yet nothing happens. Wallace and Chantry go skinny-dipping with friends, lose their clothes and still, nothing happens.
Long before the script permits the characters to acknowledge the obvious, you lose patience: Jump into the deep end of the bed already. It would be more fun and friendly to all concerned, especially the audience.