Netflixs absurd new drama doesnt reinvent the morality tale, but it is tremendous fun
It is my contention that any programme that chooses to demonstrate the bone-deep villainy of its protagonist by having her practise archery in her office is the best programme. All others can go home. Im not here for your subtle touches, your careful building of characters. Bad people have big offices, and use them to zing arrows at priceless wooden sculptures. QED, my friends, QED.
Welcome, then, to Netflixs What/If, a proudly deranged drama that asks: what if we gender-flipped Indecent Proposal and turned it into a 10-part series starring Rene Zellweger, even though the main part is crying out to be played by the original proposee, Demi Moore? The premise owes so much to Indecent Proposal that the couple about to be torn asunder even remark how much it reminds them of that movie.
What does happen is that Zellweger gets a high-spec wardrobe, a blow-dry that should have separate billing and the chance to chew the scenery in a morality tale as old as time (or at least as old as 1993, when Robert Redford offered Woody Harrelson $1m for one night with his wife). Zellweger plays Anne Montgomery, a feared and renowned venture capitalist and office archer who promises to invest inflation being what it is $80m in a medical startup by young research scientist Lisa Donovan (Jane Levy) in return for one night with her young husband, Sean (Blake Jenner).
Apart from Zellwegers exhaustingly effortful femme fataling, its tremendous fun. Everything you could possibly want is thrown into the mix and given a good stir. Sean has a Temper and a Dark Secret in His Past. Anne keeps a secret archive of cuttings about him. Lisa took a pressing loan from her parents, who suddenly need it repaid, and has a goodhearted gay brother. So far, his purpose has been to have a parallel threesome with his husband and a club dancer to show how well things can work if you put heteronormative attitudes aside and/or dont have a billionaire with a bow manipulating you at every turn. There is a junkie ex-girlfriend of Seans brought back into his life by Anne to bring more conflict into her human puppet show. There is lots of fondling of framed family photos depicting happier times, along with closeups of eyes staring through massive office windows and people tearily saying into each others necks: Well get through this together! And theres a B-plot involving Seans best buddys wife getting pregnant by a surgeon, who is so surgeon-like he has clearly been built from a surgeon kit she got off the internet. Despite all this, What/If has just enough emotional truth mixed in with the absurdity to stop it spiralling into absolute madness.
The central attraction is the same as it was when Redford first posed the question: what would you do for $1m, or $80m? Though of course the real fun lies in asking your partner what theyd do. Off you go. Enjoy the hours of intensely lighthearted discussion to come.
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