Animation Features Live Action Movies


Director – John Krasinski – 2024 – US – Cert. U – 104m


A 12-year-old staying with her grandma in New York meets many imaginary friends forgotten by the adults who befriended them as children – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 17th

This follows the time-worn children’s story template of a child whose father in hospital and is worried that they might not ever come home. In this instance, the child’s fear is grounded in her previous experience of this happening to her mother, who went into hospital and never came out.

Thus, 12-year-old Bea (Cailey Fleming) is sent to stay with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw) in New York while her single-parent dad (John Krasinski) goes to the hospital for what he assures Bea will be a routine operation. Dad is an inveterate practical joker of a gentle sort, performing impromptu song and dance routines with his treatment drip on a stand or staging a tableau of his escape out of the window via a rope made of knotted bedsheets. As you can probably tell, director Krasinski is clearly having a lot of fun playing this role, and fortunately for us that fun translates onto the screen. As a bonus, likeable child actor Alan Kim (Minari, Lee Isaac Chung, 2020) plays the patient in a nearby ward.

Bea’s hospital visiting scenes intermittently punctuate the larger narrative of life with grandma – and strange goings-on on the top floor of grandma’s building. There are glimpses of otherworldly beings – one a short woman who looks like she walked in from a Fleischer Brothers cartoon, the other a giant, cuddly purple furball resembling the giant blue character out of Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. (Pete Docter, David Silverman, Lee Unkrich, 2001). And then there’s the sight of Cal (Ryan Reynolds), who looks a lot like her dad which can be a little confusing for the audience at first, climbing a fence and breaking and entering the building.

After a certain amount of not especially scary mystery as to who exactly these characters / creatures are (the film isn’t trying to be scary, simply mysterious, at this point), it transpires that they are imaginary friends – IFs – who have been discarded by children who have grown up and grown out of their need for them. It’s a not dissimilar idea to the toys in the Toy Story films, who belong to a child until the child gets older and loses interest in them. (Pixar’s animated films appear to be a major influence.)

The Fleischer-esque cartoon woman is revealed as Blossom (voice: Phoebe Waller-Bridge) while the purple furball is Blue (voice: Steve Carell). The shy and gentle Blue has a penchant for cleverly concealing himself in unlikely places, such as a hospital laundry trolley.

There is more to grandma than meets the eye; the film’s most memorable scene has her playing a record of the ballet Spartacus and dancing to it, as if trying to recapture her lost youth.

Meanwhile, the IFs are looked after by the kind and considerate, man-sized teddy bear Lewis (voice: Louis Gossett, Jr. in his final film role).

In addition to those main characters, the piece throws in a whole raft of further IFs who are only briefly onscreen and effectively constitute little more than cameos, including a Unicorn voiced by director’s wife Emily Blunt. At one point, a whole gaggle of them (maybe twenty?) appear, and briefly overwhelm the narrative for no particularly good reason. Here’s a brief list of blink and you’ll miss ’em star names doing the voices: Bobby Moynihan, Matt Damon, Jon Stewart, Maya Rudolph, Sam Rockwell, Sebastian Maniscalco, Richard Jenkins, Awkwafina, Vince Vaughn. Not forgetting my personal favourite IF: Cosmo (voice: Christopher Meloni), the dark presence wearing a hat and trench coat like a spy or a police inspector.

Following the enormous success of A Quiet Place (2018) as an unexpected franchise, writer-director Krasinski has been allowed to do whatever he wanted, and he’s opted for this likeable children’s film which has enough going on in it to hold the attention of parents as well as their small children. That earlier film showcased his skills as a master storyteller in the area of horror and fantasy, and this new one does the same, although the emphasis here is far more skewed towards fantasy and mystery, with almost no horror element. Still, the early part of the film is full of deft touches like hands turning door handles or mysterious, yet-to-be-revealed presences behind closed doors, which keeps the audience guessing as to what is coming. And the IFs themselves, once they are revealed to the audience, prove a lot of fun.

Reynolds is his usual magnetic self, Krasinski’s tomfoolery acting routines are diverting enough. Fiona Shaw injects unexpected and genuine gravitas into the role of the granny longing for elements in her past. It’s left to child star Fleming to carry the film, a feat she pulls off with a solid and likeable performance. I suspect she has a great future in front of her.

The whole thing is mercifully free of the Wham! Bam! pacing that attends so many Hollywood kids’ movies. It doesn’t talk down to its child audience, either. Which are good reasons to take your kids, if you have any, and go and see it. Or you might just be curious to see what Krasinski does outside of A Quiet Place, as I was, and it’s worth seeing on that level too.

IF is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, May 17th.


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