cal and bee leaning into a room in if
(Paramount Pictures)

‘IF’ Is John Krasinski’s Love Letter to Childhood Imagination

IF maybe doesn’t seem like a movie that will emotionally destroy an audience. That’s probably how it’s going to get people. Written and directed by John Krasinski, it poses the question: What happens to imaginary friends after we’ve forgotten them?

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Elizabeth (Cailey Fleming) has to return to her grandmother’s (Fiona Shaw) home in New York when her father (Krasinski) is in the hospital. Telling her grandmother that she is too grown up for painting and creating, Elizabeth has lost and is afraid of losing again. This is after a montage that is basically the live-action version of Up and only serves to make you sob right out of the gate. Still, Krasinski finds a way to get the audience instantly invested in Elizabeth (who goes by Bee) and her quest to find new homes for imaginary friends.

There to help her play matchmaker for the imaginary friends (IFs) and potential kids is Cal (Ryan Reynolds), a man who was once in charge of this all on his own. Cal and the IFs live above Bee’s grandmother’s apartment, and most of the movie involves trying to find homes for creatures like Blue (Steve Carrell) and Uni, a unicorn who can produce rainbows. But that isn’t what makes IF a movie you’ll end up sobbing over.

Instead, it is the way that Krasinski softly reminds his audience that imagination is something that will never leave us, even if we think we’re “too old” for things like imaginary friends. Throughout the 104-minute runtime, multiple characters remind Bee that she is just a kid, and it is all about her discovering that growing up isn’t something that everyone wants to do, and there will always be a part of us that clings to that childhood wonder we all have hidden in our hearts.

Growing up isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

elizabeth staring at blue in if
(Paramount Pictures)

I often find movies about childhood imagination to be emotional, probably because I am still very kid-like, clinging to the wonder of the world around me and trying to look for the good in it all. But IF really pulled at my heart strings, far beyond the obvious reasons. Yes, it is a movie that focuses on loss and the fear of it, but it is also a movie about letting dreams go and how, if we just remember what it was like when we were kids, those dreams can come back to us.

For every weird new IF (like Bradley Cooper as an ice cube in a glass of water), the movie reminded me of my own imagination growing up. I wasn’t an imaginary friend kind of kid, but I told stories, something everyone in Bee’s life encouraged her to do. I wanted to pretend and create, and that hasn’t gone away.

The adult things often get in the way of that desire, but it is still there in me, and movies like IF remind us all that it is okay to allow those dreams and that imagination to fly. Krasinski did not need to make a movie about imaginary friends this emotional, but it hits for everyone. Kids will laugh at characters like Blue, teenagers will relate to Bee trying to grow up too fast, and adults will see the wonder of what it was like to imagine and wish we could go back.

You will feel things about IF; there is no doubt about it. But it is a good kind of cry, one that gives hope and reminds us all that the little kid who imagined vast landscapes and entire beings is still within us and can, when we need them to, imagine again.


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.