Appealing 'IF' celebrates gift of imagination

To become an adult is to put away childish things, to abandon make-believe and confront reality. But what if traces of our childhood imagination remain to help us through the trials of adulthood?

This “what if” is at the heart of “IF,” directorJohn Krasinski’s foray into family-friendly fantasy after his breakout horror hits “A Quiet Place” (2018) and “A Quiet Place: Part II” (2020). “IF” centers on Bea (Cailey Fleming) a 12-year-old girl who lost her mother to cancer and now faces the prospect of losing her father (John Krasinski), who must undergo open-heart surgery.

“IF” is the rare movie for children that isn’t childish. It’s also the rare family film that doesn’t spoil the fun with political messaging or “edgy” adult humor.

After moving to New York City to stay with her grandmother during her father’s time in the hospital, Bea discovers that her upstairs neighbor Cal (Ryan Reynolds) runs a kind of halfway house for imaginary friends (IFs, for short) whose original children have grown up and forgotten them.

Each IF must find a child lest it disappear forever. Cal and Bea form an unlikely bond as they try to place the IFs in new homes, with a little help from imaginary friends Blue (Steve Carell) and Blossom (Phoebe Waller-Bridge).

The broad appeal of “IF” is John Krasinski’s ability to revive the child in all of us. While actual children will delight in the film’s whimsical creations, adults will also find a potent reminder of the endless wonder of childhood. Fleming deftly portrays the turmoil of being in between these two states, as she struggles to hold on childhood’s imaginative freedom. The actress clearly has a promising career ahead of her; she’s come a long way from her bit part as young Rey in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Ryan Reynolds doesn’t stray too far from his typical persona, but he employs it so effortlessly I doubt anyone will complain. As usual, he puts in a comedic performance with a lot of heart and hilarious physical stunts; a poignant twist at the end gives his character surprising depth — and may inspire a few tears from the audience.

Krasinski (simply credited as Dad) comforts his daughter with boundless positivity, even while grappling with his own fears. Waller-Bridge, too, finds tenderness beneath her character’s gentle wit; particularly in a scene exemplifying the movie’s theme of how imagination brings comfort well into adulthood. Carell plays Blue as a loveable neurotic, perfectly complementing the more together Blossom. A stellar array of talent ensures that each IF is as memorable as its character design; Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, and Keegan-Michael Key are especially good.

“IF” is the rare movie for children that isn’t childish. It’s also the rare family film that doesn’t spoil the fun with political messaging or “edgy” adult humor. Parents will find themselves just as enraptured by the story as their children. Perhaps even more enraptured, as they remember their own forgotten, wild innocence. At the showing I attended, there were few dry eyes in audience as the credits rolled, even among grown men. Was I one of them? I’ll admit it; fortunately I’d grabbed a few extra napkins with my popcorn. I’d advise anyone seeing this wonderful film to do the same.

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