Michael Dowse is on a roll. After knocking it out of the park with the viciously goodhearted GOON, the Canadian filmmaker returns to the Toronto International Film Festival with THE F WORD, a romantic comedy about the dreaded and much-debated “friend-zone”. Starring Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver and none other than the boy-wizard himself, Daniel Radcliffe, the film is one of those rare treats that manages to be the “good” installment in a genre which is rarely taken seriously.
Because, in the words of Radcliffe himself, the romantic comedy genre is one which is occasionally great, but rarely done right. And THE F WORD – which was written by Elan Mastai and based on the play Toothpaste and Cigars by Michael Rinaldi - gets it right.
Overflowing with sincerity, honesty and constant laughs, Dowse’s latest works on every level imaginable. Not only is it powerfully funny, it has the heart to back it up. It’s filled with sweet, very real-feeling moments which should be instantly identifiable to members of both sexes, as well as those on both sides of the “can men and women be friends?” argument. Notably, the film very, very wisely refuses to indulge either side of the argument: at times, both sides are right, and both sides are wrong. This isn’t the story of a boy trying to win the girl – this is the more nuanced story of both a boy and a girl who come together and the ramifications that their meeting has on their lives.
Nearly every step of the way, the film indulges then subverts elements of the genre, to powerful and realistic effect. It very consciously dictates the line between the truth of love in the real world and the fairy tale of love in the movies, then seeks to tread that line expertly. Yes, all of those cliché things that you imagine will happen in a romantic story are going to happen in this movie, but they happen because the characters are themselves aware of those clichés. The truth and result of those actions are never how we expect them to turn out, and the film uses that reality to create drama, comedy and, above all else, a real truth about the relationship between men and women.
It’s rare to find a film which so perfectly captures the moments that happen between two people who feel an instant connection. Each scene of the film is like a tiny time capsule, a memory, a moment frozen in time. Those vivid, powerful flashes that you remember for years: the sight of a tattoo the first time you see a person in a state of (semi-) undress, the flashing of the lights while dancing at a club, the way they materialize in your mind and dictate your decisions.
Though we initially see the story more from the side of Wallace (Radcliffe), the story quickly opens up to show us Chantry’s (Kazan) side of things. Both characters have agency, both are the victims of circumstance, and both of their situations are unique. Chantry’s boyfriend is not some jerk which Wallace must overcome and rescue her from – he’s an impressive, honest and extremely nice person who does not deserve to be hurt. There is no “winning” in THE F WORD. As Adam Driver’s Allan so eloquently explains, there are only five options: be sleazy, be conniving, be pathetic, be honest or move on. Any way you cut it, somebody gets hurt, and not only does the film not shy away from that fact, it openly embraces it as an inevitable outcome to any conclusion.
THE F WORD occupies that contemporary, comedic space where banter is king, and it surpasses many of its peers in that regard. While many have seen the relaxed editing style which Judd Apatow has introduced to the comedy community as something that has gotten out of hand, Dowse (along with his editor, Yvann Thibaudeau) knows better. At a perfect 99 minutes, the film never has a chance to overstay its welcome, and the long scenes of bickering and bantering are pitch perfect no matter who is on the court: Radcliffe and Driver, Radcliffe and Kazan, Mackenzie Davis and Driver, Megan Park and Radcliffe, Park and Kazan… You get the picture. If there is one single thing that this film does flawlessly correct, it is the casting. Every actor is unique, memorable, and given ample room to play and shine. Every line gets a laugh from every character, and that is a rare and special thing.
Ultimately, THE F WORD is one of the sweetest, funniest films of the year, and a showcase for all of the talent involved: Park and Davis both have great careers ahead of them, Kazan is well on her way to being a household name and Radcliffe proves that he can shake the Potter legacy and forge a path all his own – one with legitimate staying power. And Michael Dowse continues to impress, elevating himself from one of the best Canadian comedy directors to one of the best period.