As we age, many things tug at the threads of our imagination to which the semblance may barely exist. The capitalistic society of labor may dilute a sense of work/life balance to the point where we might refrain from indulging in the hobbies we love the most. On top of that is the truth that life is finite and that as we grow older, the loss of the people we love becomes more of a possibility. Sometimes, it’s in a prolonged matter; in other cases, it happens without warning. Nevertheless, it josses that carefree, kid-like wonder inside of us. To that degree, you at least try somewhat to understand the primary fable John Krasinski’s “IF” is looking to get across. Life may throw us into choppy waters because of varying circumstances, but the stories of better days will keep us afloat.

It’s a universal message that, portrayed with the right touch, appeals to children and adults alike. A recurring issue that happens within the film is that there are so many stories, characters, and visual masters it has to serve that the overall weight of the message isn’t as efficacious as it would like to be. The film jumps around to so many places that when it settles on its core teaching, it’s too late to show the viewers why it’s so important to take with them. 

A montage of home videos and memories play from a family of three through the eyes of a girl named Bea (Cailey Fleming). Unfortunately, Bea loses her mother when she’s younger, and her father (played by Krasinski) is getting ready to undergo a scary medical procedure. Despite that, he meets his circumstances with optimism and gags to help keep Bea’s spirits up. But the tragedy of losing her mother almost inhibits Bea from growing out of the euphoric state a twelve-year-old might opt into. While staying with her grandmother Margaret (Fiona Shaw), she dismisses her love of art as something kids do. In how grief operates, permeating into the things you love, you can understand why she would feel this way. Soon after, Bea would be introduced into an adjacent world while worrying about her father’s fate. It starts with seeing an old-style cartoon ballerina running out of her apartment. Then, it’s witnessing her upstairs neighbor, Cal (Ryan Reynolds), retrieve a big purple giant monster, Blue (Steve Carrell). There are IFs (another word for imaginary friends) within this story, and they have a conundrum of sorts. 

Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Blossom), left, and Cailey Fleming (Bea) star in Paramount Pictures’ “IF.”

Imaginary friends are shining beacons of possibilities from our childhoods that instill an air of the impossible being possible inside us. What happens to these figments of our minds when we grow up and perhaps forget the things we may have held dear in the first place? That’s where Cal (and hopefully Bea) comes in, with an almost matchmaker agency to ensure the IFs find new children to instill their magic in. It’s summer in New York, and upon her father’s insistence, Bea takes the job helping a begrudgingly receptive Cal to ensure these creatures have a happy home to go to. It’s there where the film tries to walk a fine line between hard-hitting emotional beats and a sense of infinite wonder that imagination brings. To Krasinski’s credit with Janusz Kamiński’s cinematography, they at least nail the colorfulness of Bea’s imagination. There’s an extended sequence within the IFs headquarters where Bea shows off the extent of her creativity that is joyful. It also hints at the many bridge parts to come where to get the next plot point. “IF” tends to throw things into a scene like that with a pop song in tow. Given the succession in which this happens, it lessens the overall feeling of why these set pieces feel so good to see. 

L-r, Sam Rockwell (Super Dog), Cello, Akwafina (Bubble), Matt Damon (Flower), Keegan-Michael Key (Slime Ball) and Jon Stewart (Robot) star in Paramount Pictures’ “IF.”

The IFs bolster an impressive voice talent ensemble from Steve Carrell, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Matt Damon, Louis Gossett Jr., and Maya Rudolph, to name a few. One of the apexs involving the IFs is an audition scene that Cal and Bea carry on to pair up with her new friend she meets in the hospital named Benjamin (Alan Kim). It’s there where you see how funny and originative the character designs for the imaginary friends are. It varies from a simple talking glass of water with ice cubes, a melting marshmallow, and an overzealous super sleuth detective. When they go into action, a genuine joy exists in seeing them do their thing. “IF” stumbles within two degrees — the world-building as to where these imaginary friends exist and a fight to connect the two tones to make a fitting conclusion. Throughout the film, there’s a slight overture about what might happen if the IFs aren’t repurposed into finding someone else to help (well, maybe). These fears are quieted in rapid succession because, despite their plight, they seem to be having a good time anyway. A plot twist in how the story’s main goal wraps up only makes the waters murkier. Lastly, there’s the overall leveling of the contrast between Bea’s story and the adventure she elects to go on. Is Bea’s task to find these imaginary friends a new pairing and teach Cal the wonderment of happiness?

In the real world, she’s facing an uncertain future for her father, to which we don’t know the extent of his condition. Thus, time passes, and there isn’t a sense of established urgency to learn the lesson while dealing with the often tricky weight of uncertainty. The essence of imagination spans a lifetime, but “IF” has so much to say about the release and reclamation of it that a lot is lost in translation.

Main Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures