If Only… – review


If Only… (1998, dir. María Ripoll)

#52FILMSBYWOMEN is a campaign launched by Women In Film in an attempt to raise awareness of female filmmakers. Their initiative asks cinephiles to watch a female-directed film once a week for an entire year, and in this series I will document the films I watched as a part of this pledge.

If Only… (UK title), or The Man with Rain in His Shoes (original title), or Twice Upon a Yesterday (US title), or Just Another Mediocre Romcom (what the title could’ve been), is a Spanish-British fantasy romantic comedy (yes, those exist apparently) written by the singer-songwriter Rafa Russo and directed by María Ripoll in her debut feature.

Douglas Henshall plays Victor, an out-of-work thespian still reeling from his break-up with Sylvia (played by a pre-Game of Thrones fame Lena Headey). The couple came to an abrupt end after six years when Victor admitted to his infidelity, but with his ex-girlfriend engaged to be married in a couple of days, he’s now beginning to realise his error of judgement. To help forget his woes, the actor embarks on a boozy bender which, through bewildering circumstances, eventually lands him at the feet of a couple of magical Spanish bin men. They take Victor to a remote location and through their unexplained mystical powers they transport the drunkard back in time to the day he broke up with Sylvia; effectively presenting him with a second chance with the relationship.

Though not entirely original (Sliding Doors and Groundhog Day centres on a similar gimmick), the ‘what if’ scenario isn’t necessarily a bad conceit for a romcom, but the film sadly fails to capitalise on its initial promising premise. Aside from the fact that the dialogue is generally lacking in wit and the leads have no chemistry, the central male character is downright dislikeable, making his whole situation difficult to sympathise with. He’s whinny, sleazy, controlling and selfish. This not helped by the script’s mind-boggling decision to send him to a time after he’s been unfaithful rather than before – as if the film’s saying his one mistake in life is admitting to cheating rather than having the affair in the first place.

His romantic love rival, played by goatee-bearded Mark Strong, is no better. Rather than looking stylish, which was clearly the movie’s intention, he comes off as completely charmless and even slightly creepy a times. Needless to say, goatee-bearded Mark Strong is not as good as regular Mark Strong. Then the usually stellar Penélope Cruz appears in the final third playing a nerdy, librarian-esque barmaid, who for no apparent reason practically throws herself at Victor. Headey is one saving grace, providing some charm in a thankless ‘girlfriend’ role, but her presence alone cannot salvage this forgettable, albeit innocuous, dud.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆




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