TIFF13: The F Word (2013)

I was not expecting The F Word to charm as much as it did. It's a keenly observed rom-com from Goon director Michael Dowse that has more common with When Harry Met Sally… than most modern romantic comedies. It takes realistic people who we care about, puts them in a situation we understand, and makes us root for them to get together in the end. It inverts conventions while giving us the one convention we long for the most: the happy ending.

Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan) are two strangers who meet-cute at a party. Both are short, cute, and more reserved than their fellow partygoers and so they hit if off. At the end of the night Chantry gives Wallace her phone number, but crushes his romantic aspirations when she mentions her boyfriend. They agree to be friends and develop a close platonic relationship, even though they both internally know that the other would be the ideal partner for them.

There are a few things about The F Word that really click and speak to its possible entry into the future canon of romantic comedies. One huge positive is its performances. Daniel Radcliffe effortlessly sheds the baggage of Harry Potter here. There are no coy reminders of what made the actor a star, and instead, Radcliffe excels at the kind of cynical banter this film centres its humour on. He’s a bruised romantic turned cynic, and his sense of humour — understated, occasionally grotesque with a sarcasm that permeates throughout — hits the mark.

Zoe Kazan is also exceptionally good. One commenter after the screening said that Kazan’s Chantry is remarkably not a manic pixie dream girl, and some of her emotional outbursts are called out in the film as the unfair judgments that they are. She’s more of a homebody and fanciful animator than a collection of various traits the male screenwriter thought would be most becoming in a woman. She’s lovable and adorable, and you can understand why Radcliffe’s Wallace can’t help but fall in lover with her. We believe these people are best friends and ideal lovers, but we also believe them as real people, with the kind of flaws and quirks that speak to the screenwriter’s sharp eye for authenticity.

The F Word is also one of those rare films that celebrate its geographic location. It is set in Toronto, and the streets of Ontario’s capital look gorgeous here, showcasing what an appealing and vibrant city it is. The character’s lives intersect with various landmarks in the way the characters of Woody Allen’s films seem to act unconsciously as tour guides to their fair city of New York.

Still, the stellar performances, the lovely music by New Pornographers frontman A.C. Newman, the sharp celebration of Toronto would be nothing if the writing weren’t good. Luckily The F Word is exceptionally well written. It understands the confusion that surrounds emotional attachment and the desire of people in real life to live out the kind of romantic fantasies that populate our fiction. It shows that romance requires sacrifice and that friendship is the foundation of so much love.

More than anything, The F Word shows that being utterly honest, utterly transparent with your lover is both the hardest and most fundamental aspect of a relationship. It’s a delightful film, funny, charming, but most of all, romantic. That’s a rare thing for a modern romantic comedy, and what makes this film such a success.

8 out of 10

The F Word (2013, Canada)

Directed by Michael Dowse, written by Elan Mastai based off a play by Michael Rinaldi and T. J. Dawe; starring Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Megan Park, and Rafe Spall.

The F Word plays during the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Special Presentations program.