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With movies like Sarah’s Choice and Marriage Retreat, Pure Flix Entertainment surged to the front of the pack in the movement toward making Christian films that are on-par with mainstream production quality. What If…, this time teaming Pure Flix as distributor with Jenkins Entertainment and 10 West Studios, is no exception to that record, as this film is yet another wholesome and uplifting package that presents Christian truth with enough entertainment and filmmaking polish for Hollywood itself.
For most people, a life without regrets is a pipe dream. But Ben Walker is an exception to a lot of rules, and attaining the perfect life is one of them. Skyrocketing up the social and corporate ladders in the big city, Ben can name his (very high) salary. He uses his hard-earned cash to supply a luxurious lifestyle, complete with flashy car and paid-for fiancée. What’s not to like?
Ben lives for a future of more money and greater power, never giving a thought to the very different goals and desires he once had. Years before, he had planned to serve God with his life by entering the ministry with his similarly-minded girlfriend. Ben’s new lifestyle is so happily self-centered, that he would be sure to dismiss his former plans and ideals as the misguided naïveté of a sheltered youth.
That is, until he has an unexpected, vivid encounter with the past he had buried. Those regrets Ben thought he didn’t have are about to become astronomical as he comes face-to-face with the life he could have had and didn’t realize how desperately he needed.
With a premise this adventurous, What If… has to walk a fine line to maintain believability, but the director’s competence, a strong cast, and a well-written script carry this piece admirably. Lighting, costuming, and detailed sets all work to support the telling of this story, which contains dramatic shifts in location and mood. As a result, there’s no loss of reality or required suspension of disbelief when the movie takes viewers from cold city skyscrapers to the warmth of a deteriorating small-town church.
The What If… screenplay also deserves credit for this believability, as it stands out as particularly good among faith-based films. This story isn’t simple, but the nuances are delicately and fully realized in a script that is both witty and, at other moments, emotionally poignant. Heavy doses of reality and a powerful emotional core are more than ordinarily necessary in a film like this, which juggles alternate realities, and the script does its part to supply those elements.
Above all, however, the acting is the element that most distinguishes and carries What If…. Thanks to Keven Sorbo’s layered and enigmatic performance as Ben, the character’s ridiculously shallow moments become both humorous and forgivable in the light of the journey toward meaningful change that we take with him. Sorbo is supported by Kristy Swanson, who shines in her role as the woman from his past with an authenticity and relatibility that makes her moments on-screen the subtle highlights of the film. Up-and-coming Debby Ryan, playing a spunky teenager, also shows potential for a bright future with acting chops uncommon for one so young.
Whenever a film comes together as well as this one does, it’s evidence of a strong director at the helm. Dallas Jenkins is no doubt greatly to be credited for enabling his actors’ performances and smart casting. The overall unity, flow, and impact of the piece also show the vision of this young director whose skill has developed significantly since his previous work.
Yet while What If… distinguishes itself with high production values, the filmmakers don’t compromise an iota when it comes to Christian content. Rather, What If… delivers a crucial message on what is truly important in life. Unlike secular films, where the most viewers can usually hope for is a nod to serving other people, this movie takes that right idea to a fuller extent, demonstrating that serving God is an even better good.
This truth is made all the more impactful by a screenplay that manages to handle the dreaded conversion scenes and total transformations in a way that is so true to life, there’s no room for corn. Instead, these moments grow naturally out of the story, emerging as necessary, moving climaxes that add thematic depth and life-changing potential for viewers and characters alike.
Unsullied by any offensive language or other negative content, What If… can be watched by the whole family, but younger kids might get a little lost in the tangles of the multiple-reality plot. For older kids, teens, and adults, this film offers more than just good-quality entertainment. It provides an opportunity to reach unsaved audiences with the Gospel message in a format that just might reach them in a way they aren’t armed against. More importantly, What If… challenges Christians and non-believers alike to face their choices and examine their lives like they never have before.
Want to live a life with no regrets? Watch closely, and this film will tell you how.
Check out these similar titles:
Sarah’s Choice (Pure Flix, 2009)
Something to Sing About (World Wide Pictures, 2000)
Marriage Retreat (PureFlix Entertainment, 2011)