It’s Daniel Radcliffe vs. Amazonian Terror in the Real-Life Horror Tale “Jungle”

My favorite biopics — those that faithfully tell any portion of a real person’s story — are those that borrow from other genres. Pablo Larraín’s Jackie possesses the kinetic punch of a horror film. Mario Van Peebles’s Baadasssss! is a sharp comedy. And Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy is a cutting satire, while Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol comes off as a kind of whimsical, psychoanalytic murder mystery. Now with Jungle, director Greg McLean, whose career launched with the indie horror hit Wolf Creek, brings elements of the psychological thriller to the real-life story of Yossi Ghinsberg, an adventurer who found himself separated from his friends and suddenly prey for any number of toothy predators in an Amazonian jungle. Ghinsberg somehow survived the ordeal and recounted it in his 1993 memoir, Back from Tuichi, which McLean used as source material for this harrowing film. But while the horror director successfully distills Ghinsberg’s spare prose into a succession of terrifying images, McLean can’t seem to help straying into the tackier elements of horror.

Daniel Radcliffe plays Yossi, who we meet as he’s arriving in Bolivia after backpacking through other countries. Yossi’s voiceover explains that he left the Israeli army to find adventure, and introduces us to Marcus (Joel Jackson) and Kevin (Alex Russell), a Swiss teacher and American photographer, respectively. The three form a quick bond that’s almost immediately tested by a stranger, Karl (Thomas Kretschmann), who convinces the young men to join him on a dangerous expedition for gold. McLean treats Karl just as he did the local psychopath in the early scenes of Wolf Creek. Karl’s emotions and motives are unreadable, as is his expertise as a geologist and jungle guide. One minute, Karl hacks his way through dense palms and easily finds his way to water. The next, he’s bungling the group’s raft ride over some rapids, risking everyone’s lives. Kevin pleads with Yossi to believe him that Karl is an imposter who doesn’t know what he’s doing, but McLean allows us to wonder whether Kevin is just an arrogant American or if Karl is actually a fraud — or something even more dangerous. Kretschmann’s performance sells that latter possibility completely.

The quartet is constantly at odds. Marcus, who was described by Yossi in that early voiceover as a man with “the heart of a poet,” becomes a pitiable scapegoat for everyone’s anger. His blistered feet slow down the group members, who are trying to make time before torrential rains set in, and they take it out on Marcus even though everyone should be angry with Karl for bringing them there in the first place. Still, Yossi and Kevin soldier on by saddling themselves with more of Marcus’s bags. One night, Marcus sits by the fire on the verge of tears. The men won’t say what they’re thinking — that he’s weak — but Marcus can sense it. He tells Yossi that he knows something has changed and that they’re no longer friends, but Yossi lies to him. McLean shows us Yossi and Kevin with their heads on their pillows, listening with gritted teeth to Marcus’s incessant weeping, almost like the wailing of an unsettled ghost. We feel Marcus’s hopelessness and also the other men’s seething anger. Throughout these scenes, I kept forgetting what the real story was and wondered when one was going to snap and kill the others.

Later, when Yossi is isolated and wandering the jungle — wet, hungry, and hallucinating — McLean totally drops that tension he’s built with a series of fantasies Yossi imagines. They’re over-the-top and mismatched in tone from the rest of this gritty film. In one, Yossi imagines he’s at a fancy party with a beautiful woman who’s showering him with champagne, and McLean’s winking at us with every brightly lit, slow-motion shot. Why break us out of the rising tension for a detour of cheeky fun? It’s almost as though the director lost confidence in his ability to sustain the serious mood and had to let out an exasperated laugh. But McLean does largely succeed here in telling a story that’s just as thrilling as its source material.

Directed by Greg McLean
Momentum Pictures
Opens October 20, Cinema Village


‘The Whole Farting Idea Is From My Daniel’: Meet the Moms of the Creators of ‘Swiss Army Man’

An unlikely buddy comedy-drama about the friendship between a suicidal castaway played by Paul Dano and a flatulent corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe, Swiss Army Man doesn’t seem like the kind of movie you’d watch with your mother. So what was it like to be the mothers of the film’s directors, Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (who work together under the name “Daniels”)? To find out, we spoke to Becky Scheinert and June Kwan, the two filmmakers’ moms.

What was it like seeing Swiss Army Man for the first time at Sundance?

Scheinert: I was in San Francisco on business and had travel problems, so I couldn’t get there in time — after we’d planned for the whole family to show up. I got all the way to Sundance, and I’m standing outside the theater, under a heat lamp, waiting for folks to come out. I can vouch for the fact that people were not streaming out during the movie. Then, as people came out afterwards, my first impression was just seeing their faces … and there were a lot of puzzled looks. (Laughs) Two guys came out, and one of them said, “What did we just see?”

I’m in marketing, so I love this kind of market research. Real filmgoers’ first reaction to the movie: “What? Wait, what?” Which pleased me, because I know that’s what Daniel wanted. I got to see the second showing at the festival. And the audience’s response after the first one was such a zoo that the folks in the second screening were like, “Eyes open. We’ve got our seatbelts on. What’s next?” I watched the audience as much as I watched the film itself, and their exuberant response at the end brought tears to my eyes. Daniel was just leaping with joy: “Yes, we succeeded! We made mom cry!”

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Kwan: The movie is very beautiful, touching, and the music and the images are great. But I have to say, I was not used to it. We are probably more used to the Hollywood style, or more mature movies. It took me a while to digest. They have been thinking about this whole thing for a long time. I know they had the topic and went to Sundance for the screenplay and the music, where there were faculty and experts that helped them put things together. But Daniel kept a lot of things secret; even his fiancée hadn’t seen it. I knew it was about farting, and I knew it’s about somebody trying to survive in the wilderness. And we had read him books about similar things. So I was thinking that it would be a serious survival movie. But it was a very imaginary world.

Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe in <i>Swiss Army Man</i>
Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe in Swiss Army Man

The two Daniels have worked together for years now. Was there anything in the film that made you say, “That’s my Daniel”?

Kwan: The whole farting idea is from my Daniel, I think. Daniel and his sister always had fart jokes. And also I saw his influence in the colorful part of the movie. Making things based on trash, to make all the beautiful things that Paul Dano had in his memory. I don’t know about the other Daniel, but our family was always crafty and always made use of things in the house — just a pencil or paper and Play-Doh and clay, or putting pieces of other material together to make something beautiful. My children always liked to do that.

Scheinert: The general perversity of it. That feels like Daniel: If 10 kids are marching in one direction, he will be 30 degrees to the left, going somewhere else. All through his life, when he would go and try something, I’d get this sideways look from some other people — like, “You hatched this?” In first grade, Daniel did a writing project. His teacher liked his little story, so he went to this thing where they get to read it.

So everybody else is talking about how the robin laid an egg in a nest outside their window and all that, and then little Daniel gets up looking like this cherubic little cutie, and he starts reading from his book called The Vampire Cat. It involved a hatchet and an axe and then chemicals that were spilled on the cat to turn it into a vampire. And these other moms — it was mostly moms — are sitting there, and their eyes got a little bigger. And one mom said, “Eh? Maybe the next Stephen King?” I thought, “Oh, I better brace myself. This is gonna be a long road.”

Watching the film, there’d be parts where you’d think, “Okay, are they gonna get sappy here?” And then it would be jerked back to a lighter point — that definitely felt like Daniel. Touch on the heavy stuff, but don’t beat it to death. No pun intended.

Kwan: I think it’s a movie about looking for love in a lonely world. Paul Dano tries to talk to his inner self: He’s a very withdrawn person, and he tries to get things out to this corpse — this farting corpse. I know that Daniel, when he was growing up, was always very good at describing his thoughts in pictures and music. Most people, when they describe something, they will find a more polished, maybe more careful way to convey their thinking. But these two Daniels, even in “Turn Down for What,” they just bring everything out to the screen — whatever is in their mind, in their thinking, in their spirit, in their world. It’s very straightforward, very raw.

And maybe people feel it more directly — especially the younger generation. I had my other son sitting next to me [during the movie], and he was so touched he almost cried. But for me, I have to sit back and think, “Why don’t I feel so comfortable about this movie?” I think it’s the generation thing. That’s why Daniel didn’t show this to us. But it’s a beautiful movie.

Best friends for life ... if not longer
Best friends for life … if not longer

Was it a challenge having a child who wanted to go into the arts — an area where it’s often notoriously hard to make a living?

Kwan: We’re from a Chinese family, and usually in Chinese families parents want their children to be a doctor or lawyer. I have two sons, and they both went into arts. One is a film major. And my youngest son is an animator. My dream for my children is that they find their passion and do it. I never told them what to do — but if they don’t have passion for a thing then they are probably not serious about it. Daniel was not very sure about going into film. But from watching him growing up, I knew that he had a way of putting things together. When he was a freshman in college, he was majoring in art, but it wasn’t right for him. I talked to him about transferring to Emerson College. He said, “Mommy, I’m not sure. I don’t know if I’m good.” I said, “Daniel, there’s nothing else you can do!”

If Daniel doesn’t want to do something, he can sit around and do nothing for days. He ended up going to Emerson, and graduated, and went to California, taking a Dreamworks job. After only about two weeks, he said, “I have to quit my job, I have something I really want to do.” I said, “Daniel, can you at least wait until you can pay off your student loan?” He said, “I can’t.” So I said, “Daniel, you know better. It’s your life. I can’t give you advice anymore, but whatever you do, I will support you. And if you cannot feed yourself, come back home, mommy will feed you.” (Laughs) So I was kind of nervous, but I didn’t worry because life is full of surprises. If you don’t try to do what you really love, it’s a waste of life.

Scheinert: For years, we weren’t sure if Daniel was going to be able to feed himself. You think about those things. We knew he was highly creative, and we certainly supported that strongly. And we thought, “You certainly have a talent for this, and you should do something that you’re good at, whatever that might be. But you need to feed yourself.” He went through the Sidewalk Film Festival, doing the high-school film competition stuff, which was exciting. But we had to put it in perspective: “That’s great, but you’re still a high-school kid, and this is still Alabama. You’re a big fish in a small pond.” Then he went to Emerson and got in comedy-theater troupes.

That, I think, helped mold his quirkiness, if you will. He had a very strong musical-theater background in high school and won all sorts of things, and his director said, at the end of senior year, “Yes, Daniel was a very good actor, but I’m sorry, he’s going to be a director.” I got to attend a screening of an on-spec short that he did in L.A., which was well attended. Watching the reactions of the audience to the various shorts — his blew them away, knocked their socks off. I thought, “You’re gonna be okay. You’re good.”


The Search for the Perfect Fart: Talking Gas With the Team Behind ‘Swiss Army Man’

Ever since its Sundance premiere, Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan’s Swiss Army Man has been known as the movie in which a shipwrecked Paul Dano rides Daniel Radcliffe’s farting corpse to civilization. It’s actually about a lot more than that, but it almost certainly contains the most diverse, complex array of farts ever heard onscreen. So where did all those farts come from? We asked the film’s sound mixer, Steve Nelson, and supervising sound editor, Brent Kiser, to let us in on their secrets.

What is the biggest challenge about recording a fart?

Nelson: The biggest part is timing. Secondly, if you’re coming to me to have your fart recorded, you want to make sure that you have an audible one and not a silent one. But it can be hard to predict in advance what kind of fart it will be.

How did you go about recording farts for this film?

Nelson: In my case, I came to work on set one day, and the directors made an announcement: “If anyone has a fart that they would like to donate to the movie, see Steve at any point during the day and fart for him.” We did have a fairly good participation, but maybe not as many as they had hoped for. I think people get really camera-shy. We’re socially ingrained to save up our farts until after work; you have to adjust your mindset to start intentionally farting outward.

Were there any particularly memorable farts you recorded?

Nelson: The first person to do it immediately after the directors’ announcement was our cable person on the sound department. She volunteered and gave a really good one. And the second one I remember was Paul Dano, who cut one loose right before a take. He just grabbed the boom mic right out of the air and delivered it. We made note so that the editors could easily find that one.

Kiser: I definitely remember that one! Steve’s recordings are some of the best I ever got from a production mixer; he went above and beyond and gave us all sorts of stuff that we didn’t expect. But we only wound up using one real fart in the movie. It’s toward the end when they’re talking about thoughts, when they’re up in the tree: “This is a thought…this is a thought…” The second or third Paul Dano fart in that montage is Matt Hannam, the picture editor, farting. He was so good to us, and he was like, “Please, please put in one of my farts.”

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How were the other farts recorded?

Kiser: Right after the shoot, the directors came in and we had a six- to eight-hour fart-recording session. We just thought of every way we could to make these farts: We needed underwater farts, we needed airy farts, we needed farts that were not cartoonish, that were realistic but at the same time expressive. I know — my career. Mom’s really happy I went to art school. So we got a little fart library together that we then gave to the picture editor team. And in the opening scenes, when Paul Dano is listening to Daniel Radcliffe’s body for his vitals, to see if he’s alive, we had a slow rumbling internal gestational sound: That’s actually Daniel Scheinert’s stomach growling.

What are some of the best artificial ways to create fart sounds?

Kiser: First we got real elementary-school with it, like putting our hands up to our face and [blowing]. But we found that only worked with Dan Kwan, because he didn’t have facial hair, and it won’t work if you have facial hair. Of course, we never knew that in third grade. Same thing with the arms: Once again, works better on people that didn’t have defined muscles. And chubby cheeks make really good fart sounds.

We also did things like blow through a pipe into a mixture of liquids to try to get bubbles. One challenge was creating the “butt jet,” or the fart Jet Ski. We needed to have the rev, and the motor, to give the feeling that it was mechanical. We really layered up a lot of sound on that one — water bubbles, airy farts, some slowed-down Jet Skis, some other motor engines — to give the feeling and presence of…butt-jet.

It must have been quite a challenge to create these farts in such a way that they can be distinctive, and audible, but still feel like a part of the film. They’re funny, but not in a Mel Brooks way.

Kiser: The whole thing started with one simple log line: The directors wanted to create a movie that would open up with a fart that you would laugh at and end with a fart that you would cry at.

And real farts, especially if you’re outside, aren’t really that audible. So, for example, in the opening scene, when Paul Dano is off trying to hang himself, and he sees Daniel Radcliffe’s corpse way off down by the beach, farting up a storm — in real life, he wouldn’t be hearing that.

Kiser: We ended up using a lot of focused sound. In real life, we can cancel out other things around us. So how do we seamlessly get into this situation and drown out the ambient noise, and make the sound more focused, pointed? We built out the ocean really big at the beginning, and then we brought it down slowly, so that we’re able to help you focus on what the directors want you to focus on: We can direct your attention to these farts and the tension that they’re creating while Paul Dano is trying to hang himself. “Dude, I’m just trying to die. Can you quit this shit?”

The sonic landscape in general for this film is interesting. It’s a castaway movie, and we know how important sound is in films like that — Crusoe, Cast Away, etc. But it’s also very surreal, and they’re not actually on a desert island, it turns out, so the world we’re hearing is probably broader than the typical desert island movie.

Nelson: The circumstances of making this film were rather unique. We spent a lot of time hiking around the forest carrying around our corpse dummies. One nice thing when you’re making a small movie is that you can cast your net really wide to capture as many atmospheric elements as possible. Iris, the nice girl I told you about who contributed those farts, one of her other jobs was putting on waders, going out into the streams we were shooting around, and putting foam underneath any babbling part of the river, so we could silence it. That allowed us to record without any interference whatever other natural ambience is happening in that place. Otherwise the sound of a river can be pretty overwhelming, if what you’re trying to get across is a real sincere, quiet moment between a sad guy and a dead guy with a boner.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream of farts?

Kiser: Not as of yet! It’s funny — we actually had a real Wilhelm Scream in this, but we ended up taking it out. Beau Borders, who mixed the film in post with me, is a Skywalker dude; he was nominated for an Oscar for Lone Survivor. He grew up on the Skywalker Ranch, and he knew [legendary sound designers] Ben Burtt and Randy Thom, those heavy hitters of sound — the reason I’m able to do what I do is because of those dudes. I put a Wilhelm Scream in, and he said, “Yeah, I’m not playing that. That’s Ben Burtt’s sound. Only Ben can put that in.” That gave a whole new meaning to the Wilhelm Scream for me. That’s Ben’s signature; it’d be weird if I signed my name with someone else’s.



Horns Lets Radcliffe Be Bad, But Not in a Good Way

Alexandre Aja’s Horns is the rare YA-ish romance that doesn’t make like a guidance counselor and force the characters to shake hands and forgive. It’s a biblically tinged, eye-for-an-eye vengeance thriller about an emo boyfriend named Ig (Daniel Radcliffe) whose childhood sweetheart Merrin (Juno Temple) has been murdered underneath the treehouse where they wooed. The folks in his Washington State town are convinced he’s guilty, as are the crews of the news vans that centipede behind him as he tries, futilely, to escape without making things worse by, say, peeing on her memorial candles. He’s not much for self-control or acting innocent. “You think I’m capable of murder?” he snarls. “Just put me in a room with the guy who really killed her.” Easy there, O.J.

Everyone sees Ig as Satan — a point the local paper hammers home with the headline, “Is This the Face of the Devil?” — so it’s only fitting that, after drunkenly shagging a tattooed blonde (Kelli Garner), he wakes up to find he’s sprouted a pair of curving horns. Not only do these spikes make his public image literal, the horns have the ability to pry the truth out of people whether Ig wants to hear it or not. He just has to stand there while the bewitched bug out their eyes, fess up to their worst inner thoughts, and violently make them real. Instead of moping (or rather, in addition to it), he becomes a hoodie-clad, horn-bespoked gumshoe hunting down the next clue.

Ig learns things he’d rather not know. His dad (James Remar) is certain he’s a killer, his mom (Kathleen Quinlan) just prays he and those camera crews will go away forever, the local priest suggests suicide. Meanwhile, his neighborhood best friend (Max Minghella), now a public defender, vows to clear his name, while Ig’s jazz-musician older brother (Joe Anderson, one of the best character actors we have) would rather keep gigging and pretending everything is dandy.

The producers were smart to cast Radcliffe, who’s always had the air of a martyr. Just picture him in a retro Technicolor blockbuster about St. Sebastian, the moppet stuck through with arrows. Thanks to the eight Harry Potter films, he’s suffered more than any male lead outside of the Saw franchise — his big blue eyes were made to well with tears. But Radcliffe wasn’t smart to tell the producers yes. This is high-toned horror that doesn’t realize that it’s deeply silly. There’s red lights casting hellish shadows on Radcliffe’s face and goth covers on the soundtrack (Ig is, of course, an alt-DJ). He can’t even break a bottle without the soundtrack caking on a thunderclap.

Most oppressively, every inch of Horns is choked in religious metaphor that strangles the fun from the film. Aja clutters the movie with golden crosses and Garden of Eden snakes, but doesn’t dare wrestle with the theology behind them — this is a snapshot of a steak, not a full meal.

Writer Keith Bunin is saddled with a tricky hook, thanks to the original novel by Joe Hill. Not only do Ig’s horns force honesty from people; when he touches anyone’s arms, he can see their past. It’s an odd setup for a murder mystery, as it precludes deduction and suspense; cracking the case is just a question of pulling the right levers. At least Horns can salvage its premise for cheap, effective laughs. At a bar where Ig demands information about the slaying, a burly drunk drops his pants and says, “I really want to show everybody my dick.” At the doctor’s waiting room, a woman next to him blurts, “It’s true what they say about black cock!” and when Ig grabs her arm, he has a vision of her porking her golfing instructor. Eventually, Ig gets exasperated with the reporters, and jokes, “How about you guys beat the shit out of each other, and the winner gets an exclusive with me?” They do.

By the time two macho cops start undoing each other’s zippers, the film has convinced us that the major secrets of the human psyche are all sex, with a swath of self-interest. The only real saint in the picture is the departed Merrin, the sort of impossibly sweet innocent that country songs love to kill off. Temple specializes in fragile weirdos (Killer Joe, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), but here Aja allows her to be otherworldly wonderful — if saddled with a wig so cheap, it makes it clear the entire cosmetic budget was spent on Radcliffe’s antlers. Being as Horns resembles a mutated, kiddie version of Gone Girl, we’re expecting a twist, but the revenge fantasies here are too simple for narrative depth. Here, men are dogs and girls are doomed. And before and after the blood flows, Aja reassures us of the young couple’s true love by cutting back to a sunny, semi-erotic flashback where Ig and Merrin kiss in the grass. “Are you horny?” Ig coos. She has no idea.


Daniel Radcliffe Explains Why He’ll Never Do a Rom-Com with Emma Watson

Daniel Radcliffe’s first trip to Comic-Con kicked off like the world’s cuddliest Nuremberg rally. This summer, just minutes after he walked into Hall H, the hangar-sized sardine can of 6,500 people sang him “Happy Birthday.” It was an emotional moment for everyone. “The fact that I was turning 25 slightly blew people’s minds,” Radcliffe says three days later in Los Angeles. “I’ve grown up with them, as well as they’ve grown up with me. That’s the thing: I am now in the position of making anyone from 27 to 35 feel incredibly old.”

For better and worse, Radcliffe has been in the public eye since he was 11. Before he turned 13, a Japanese game show channeled the ghost of Princess Diana to ask, “That Mr. Harry Potter from the film, has he done it proper yet with a lady?” The British tabloids were even more intrusive. “They’re vile,” Radcliffe sighs, “and they give all journalists a bad name, unfortunately.”

But Radcliffe made the unusual choice to face tough questions head-on, defusing the gossip rags’ power with honesty and a smile. Yes, the night he lost his virginity was really good. Yes, he’s now sober after a heavy-drinking stint. Yes, he’s an atheist, which he’s aware is a more controversial stance in America than at home. (Teachers who already love Harry Potter for boosting literacy rates will love him more for being a public figure who dares to groan, “I obviously don’t think creationism should be taught as part of science — that’s fucking ridiculous.”)

The toughest questions are about his career. Radcliffe is up-front about his determination to leave the wizarding world behind — and his awareness that rewriting his image will take work. Playing the character again is “not in the cards,” he insists. Still, not only is Harry Potter embedded in the culture, but he’s also embedded in Radcliffe himself. “I’m sure our personalities influenced each other, which sounds crazy because one of us is real and the other isn’t,” Radcliffe says. “Having spent so much time playing him, his instincts became my instincts, which is not such a bad thing. He’s fiercely loyal and curious and brave — and I hope I am.”

As the franchise wound down, Radcliffe set out to prove his range. He said no to a stack of action films, and yes to the best offers of everything else: Broadway musicals (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), horror flicks (Woman in Black), highbrow period pieces (Kill Your Darlings), Saturday Night Live, and even voicing a character on The Simpsons, which, he beams was, “an ambition since I was none.”

Yet, ironically, it’s the romantic comedy What If, his new, least-gimmicky experiment, that best showcases Radcliffe’s promise. He plays a depressed, brokenhearted med school dropout who falls for his best friend’s cousin (Zoe Kazan), a witty blonde. The two cerebrally connect and plunge into one of those perpetual-motion conversations that the happiest couples continue for a lifetime. Problem is, she has a serious live-in boyfriend (Rafe Spall), who is pretty swell himself, which makes What If both a porno for intellectuals and a romance that delves into the ethics of loving someone who’s already in love with someone else. “It’s not going to be an easy decision,” Radcliffe says, as opposed to the usual, make-it-easy movie scenarios where “the boyfriend is a douche, and you’re, like, ‘Well, of course she’s not going to end up with him.’ ”

Directed by Michael Dowse (Goon), What If is a shameless homage to When Harry Met Sally , but that’s forgivable. For one, there’s almost no better film to rip off. Radcliffe filters Billy Crystal’s sarcasm through his own wide-eyed wistfulness. Hovering around Kazan, he nails that push-pull mix of excitement and self-protection, wresting the genre from the stilettos-and-shopping-sprees stinkers of the last decade and reminding us of when rom-coms used to feel emotionally real.

“There has been a weird slanting of romantic comedies toward women, which is bizarre because in some ways I think men are more romantic than women. On the whole, I find that when men fall in love, they fall harder and with more abandon,” Radcliffe says. “Men are the ones that I’ve heard saying, ‘I just can’t live without her, my life’s falling apart without her, I am nothing without her.’ I have a lot of female friends and I’ve almost never heard that from a girl.”

For another, When Harry Met Sally… is 11 days older than Radcliffe himself, meaning his entire generation has grown up without a smart, sweet romantic comedy that speaks to them — a vacuum made worse by the middle-aged media handwringers who speak for them, decrying 20-somethings as callous, immediate-gratification kids just looking for a casual hookup.

“The hookup generation has existed for a couple generations, it’s just now you can plan it in advance,” Radcliffe says. “It’s not just getting drunk at a bar and going off with someone. You go online first and swipe right. The idea of technology is to make everything quicker and more efficient — and the same with love, intimacy happens quicker.” What shocks people today, he notes, is settling down before 21, as his parents did — and as that fictional boy wizard did.

But could he ever put Potter far enough in the past that he could make a rom-com with his eight-time co-star Emma Watson? “Nah, it’d be too weird,” Radcliffe laughs. “Because it would all be about Harry and Hermione. We could wait 60 years, and do it and that’s still exactly what it would be about.”


Friends With Possibilities: What If Someone Made a Good Romantic Comedy?

In the highly imperfect world of contemporary romantic comedies, What If is as close to perfect as anything we’ve got, not least for the way it captures the abject hopefulness of young people who’d like to be in love but don’t know how to go about it. Who does know how to go about it? Perhaps that explains the near-universal appeal of romantic comedies, at least when they’re done well. And while What If does have its blemishes — there are times when it’s just too cute for its own good — it’s so enjoyable from moment to moment that it’s easy to forgive. There’s no anguish so delectable as that of meeting the right person at the wrong time, and What If gets it.

Daniel Radcliffe’s Wallace is a would-be doctor who left medical school after a messy breakup sent him ’round the bend. An expat Englishman, he’s been squirreling himself away in his sister’s attic, spending too much of his time sitting on the roof and staring out at the Toronto skyline. One night, at a party hosted by a friend (the ubiquitous Adam Driver), he and an attractive young woman meet cute over a set of refrigerator poetry magnets. Zoe Kazan’s Chantry is an animator — whimsy alert! — and the two strike up one of those all-too-believable flirtations that skitters around madly like a Tickle Bee toy. She seems to like him, but she won’t allow him to make a move. Later, he spots her getting her coat, and he darts over to grab his. “I was just leaving without saying good-bye, like a total dick,” he says a little too eagerly, even though it’s obvious she was going to be the first to split.

See also: Daniel Radcliffe Explains Why He’ll Never Do a Rom-Com with Emma Watson

But she does allow him to walk her home, and just as she reaches her door, she pointedly drops a line about how her boyfriend will be worried that she’s stayed out so late. Poor Wallace, already smitten, pulls back immediately, even as Chantry, so clueless in that way girls can be, pulls a page from the notebook she’s carrying and writes her phone number on it, suggesting that maybe the two could hang out together “as friends.” Wallace tosses the paper away as soon as he gets to the safety of his roof; as it floats off into the nighttime treetops, the little cartoon selfie Chantry has drawn on the back comes to life and takes wing, too, a sad, airborne relic of all the things that might have been.

Of course, not even the presence of “the boyfriend” (played ably by Rafe Spall, son of Timothy) means the end of Wallace and Chantry. If you’re allergic to too much winsomeness, you’ll have to steel yourself for a few things in What If: Chiefly, you might have to get used to Kazan and her Blythe-doll eyes — she’s like an adorable acorn in a mini coat and tights. But somehow, Kazan keeps it all in check, and her over-the-top pixie quality probably helps draw off some of Radcliffe’s nervous energy. He’s terrific, regardless — he’s a good leading man precisely because he isn’t a model of poise. When Wallace fills up the air with evasive chatter, we can see the desperation in his eyes: He loves a girl who’s got a serious, live-in boyfriend, for God’s sake, and at certain times in life, that’s the biggest possible problem any human being could possibly have. Radcliffe makes us see both the misery of the situation and its utter absurdity: He’s being tortured, but he makes it all seem so casual.

What If — which was adapted for the screen by Elan Mastai, from a play by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi — suggests that the best romances begin as friendships, anyway. Radcliffe and Kazan are wonderful in a scene in which she drags him shopping, looking for a dress to wear to a big party. She spots, on a mannequin, a racy red one that she loves, and whispers something in his ear. “Do you think it’s too much for me?” It is — we can see that it doesn’t quite suit her — but he tells her no, of course not. It’s one of those little red lies that so often get love going in the first place. The director is Michael Dowse, whose pictures include the wonderful and sorely under-appreciated 2011 Goon, starring Seann William Scott as a bouncer who shocks his overeducated family with his dubious ambition of becoming a hockey star. What If has a similarly easygoing, ramshackle charm: It never feels as if it’s trying too hard, even if maybe, sometimes, it is. Romance, after all, is elusive, kind of like the perfect romantic comedy. We’ll take whatever we can get.


Hollywood Golden Boys Provide Glitter and Little Else in Two New Productions

Of all the alter egos you can picture James Franco inhabiting, is “California farmhand” one of them? Me neither. How about Daniel Radcliffe (aka Harry Potter) as a hard-luck Irishman? Maybe slightly less of a stretch?

This spring, two revivals — John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan — place major film stars on Broadway stages. The first features Franco and Chris O’Dowd, the second Radcliffe. Both raise questions about the rationale behind revivals: Do we bring back old plays because we love them or because they allow celebrities to dabble with stagecraft?

Steinbeck’s classic saga, which he adapted from his 1937 novel, follows itinerant farmhands around Depression-era California. Smart, tough George (Franco) travels with, and fiercely protects, the physically strong but emotionally childlike Lennie (O’Dowd). The men dream of their own farm, but perpetually risk unemployment because Lennie can’t keep his big, well-meaning hands to himself.

The new Broadway production has plenty of things to recommend it. There’s Anna D. Shapiro’s crisp direction, a beautifully craggy set by Todd Rosenthal, and a delightfully self-possessed dog who makes an important cameo.

But the film stars’ work is slicker and less engaging. Franco’s performance is blustery and thin, and Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl debutante extraordinaire) is similarly slight playing the ranch owner’s son’s lonely, bored wife. O’Dowd is more convincing as the sweet, confused Lennie.

This unevenness points to other confusions in the piece. Of Mice and Men fits easily into dramatic form, but something is lost in translation. The fable’s symbolic weight is heavier-handed, and the ending feels too inevitable. (As if we didn’t get it, a giant mechanical claw hovers over Lennie’s head at the moment the plot pivots toward doom.) Steinbeck’s observations on poverty, which could have been apt in this age of widening economic inequality, are buried beneath the creaking sense of impending disaster.

If Of Mice and Men evokes classic Americana, The Cripple of Inishmaan tries to provide a touch of the Irish. First produced in 1996, McDonagh’s play follows young “Cripple” Billy (Radcliffe) as he struggles with prejudice, poverty, and rumors that his parents drowned themselves to escape him. One day, the town gossipmonger, Johnnypateenmike (Pat Shortt), brings big news: A filmmaker has landed in nearby Inishmore to cast a new movie (this part is based on real events from 1934). Soon, Inishmaan’s youth, including the desperate Billy, are piling into a rowboat in hopes of escaping down-and-out island life.

Inishmaan is problematic for reasons unrelated to Radcliffe’s earnest, if exaggerated, performance. McDonagh seems to be writing a farce; the play includes endless exits and entrances and an almost unbearable amount of banter. But it’s unclear what’s funny about Inishmaan. The objects of humor seem to be poverty and Irishness, which would be forgivable if I’d laughed. The set, all rounded rock walls and grimy windows, feels like a Flintstones take on rustic despair, and the characters are types, neither sympathetic nor genuinely amusing. And for all the play’s quirky historical setting, McDonagh seems most interested in drama of the most conventional kind: boy-meets-girl sentimentalism, buried family secrets coming to light.

Revivals can be revelatory, but that takes more than moonlighting movie stars. Smaller names, and bigger plays, might have done the trick.


The Cripple of Inishmaan

The poor, lame lad at the center of Martin McDonagh’s drama likely looks familiar: He’s erstwhile boy wizard Daniel Radcliffe. Back on Broadway, Radcliffe will play the lead in this dark comedy of love, death, disease, and Hollywood stardom. Happily, the role does not require erotically caressing horses or dancing jigs.

Wednesdays, Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; Tuesdays, Thursdays, 7 p.m. Starts: April 12. Continues through July 20, 2014


Daniel Radcliffe Is British From The Waist Up

That little wizard Daniel Radcliffe plays young gay poet Allen Ginsberg in the upcoming film Kill Your Darlings, so he posed for luscious shots by Kai Z Feng for an Out magazine story written by editor Aaron Hicklin.

In the piece, Radcliffe answers a question about playing gay like so:

“You never see a gay actor getting asked what it’s like to play straight–to my knowledge, at least, there is no difference in how heterosexual and homosexual people fall in love.”

Sensible little wizard!

The film’s director is also quoted, saying he had a momentary panic about casting Radcliffe as Ginsberg because Radciffe isn’t Jewish.

Replied the director’s boyfriend, “Of course he’s Jewish–everyone in the world knows that. Didn’t you see the shots from Equus? He’s only British from the waist up.”


Besides, if you don’t have to be gay to play gay, why should you have to be Jewish to play Jewish?


The Woman in Black

A ghost story set in a never-clearly-defined era (the fashion suggests Victorian, the automobiles Edwardian), The Woman in Black aids in the reanimation of a cadaver: the long-moribund production company Hammer Films, rebooted in 2010. The movie, featuring Daniel Radcliffe’s first leading role post–Harry Potter, also helps keep at least one career from meeting an early demise. If director James Watkins’s second film, based on Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, is about as scary as the haunted house your big cousins made in the basement, Radcliffe, as widowed lawyer Arthur Kipps, at least gives a moving portrayal of grief. Still inconsolable four years after his wife died during childbirth, Arthur, whose bereavement has been affecting his work, bids his son goodbye and takes a train from London to the northeastern marshlands of Crythin Gifford to settle the estate of Mrs. Drablow, a recently deceased local eccentric. From the mysterious woman’s window, he spots the wraith of the title; meanwhile, the bodies of pallid children keep piling up. The connection between the two is almost beside the point: The plot is subordinate to lengthy scenes of hollow-eyed Arthur wandering in silence through Drablow’s manor, hearing the voices of the furious dead and seeming all too ready to join them.