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'The F Word' director Michael Dowse on rom-com chemistry and rooting for his leading man, Daniel Radcliffe

Crédit photo : Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan (Les Films Séville)
'The F Word' director Michael Dowse on rom-com chemistry and rooting for his leading man, Daniel Radcliffe
Can two people attracted to each other stay platonic? Director Michael Dowse (GoonIt’s All Gone Pete TongFubar) brings a modern When Harry Met Sally to screen with The F Word (What If in the States to comply with their ratings board). Like most rom-coms, this is a fun ride, but with an unconventional leading man and woman (Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan) and setting (Toronto), it’s also refreshingly honest about the relatable complexities of being "friendzoned", unsure about one’s feelings, and the temptations of cheating.
The screwball dialogue and zany supporting cast (including Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis) keep the laughs coming but it’s the spark between Radcliffe and Kazan that’s reponsible for the momentum. One of the best scenes, in a changing room, is nearly wordless, tender when it could have be lewd, a quiet oasis from the comedy made all the more powerful by its restraint. Nightlife.ca sat down with the Calgary-born, Montreal-based Dowse to talk about his latest movie.
Nightlife.ca: Toronto is a great setting for the movie but I understand you initially imagined Montreal locations when reading the script?
Dowse: I just really love Montreal. Parc Lafontaine, Parc Jeanne-Mance, up on the Mountain, a myriad of restaurants, the Plateau, the Mile End area, probably Vieux Montreal, you know—all over. I mean, Cinema du Parc: they probably would’ve gone to the movies there, or Excentris. When you live in a town, you always find these little pockets of the city that you fall in love with, that you’d love to one day shoot in. Where you take people on dates and where you go on long walks.

What drew you to a rom-com?
Probably the most important thing that brought me to it was the script, which had a really great emotional impact. I was rooting for these two to end up together. I think it’s a hard thing to accomplish but a good challenge for any director to try, because the romantic emotion is not like somebody dies, it’s a nebulous thing to crack into. It’s not as easy as scaring people or making them laugh.
The movie is both funny and romantic. How’d you keep that balance?
I think one complements the other. You gain people’s trust when you make them laugh and you gain an audience member’s trust in your storytelling when you entertain them in that sense. In a way, I think it opens them up to some of the more romantic dramatic parts of the script. Probably the main thing you do as a director is that you have a really good bullshit meter. You make sure that it doesn’t feel manipulative or just doesn’t work. What I don’t like [about romantic comedies] is that they’re often unrealistic—neither funny nor romantic, you know what I mean? What I liked about this project was that the thing that draws these people together is their sense of humour and their shared sardonic outlook on life.
How do you keep it from feeling unrealistic or phony?
In terms of the chemistry, I use a lot of improv. The script is so good that I didn’t use improv to fix things. For me, it was trying to find those moments within the story where you could just let the actors go and infuse their own senses of humour and stories into the characters. There are specific scenes like in the opening party, at the diner and when they’re camping where we just let the actors riff. It’s not just the stuff that you shoot that ends up in the film, it’s them bonding, trying to make each other laugh and tell each other their own stories. It all goes into the ether of making the film and ends up on screen in one way or the other.
Zoe Kazan and Daniel Radcliffe (Les Films Séville)
Rom-com is really a switch in gears from Goon and your other projects.
But a very conscious shift in gears. It’s very easy to get pigeonholed as a director. I like directors that do a wide range of films and touch different genres and challenge themselves in different ways. I was very proud of Goon and very happy to make that movie but I wanted to do something totally different.

Wht are your favourite rom-coms?
When Harry Met SallyThe Apartment—I think The Apartment is pretty close with this one. I think there’s a young Jack Lemmon in Daniel Radcliffe. ManhattanAnnie Hall. Even Sleepless in Seattle or those types of romantic comedies are more sort of what I was trying to get at. And even the romances like Love Story or The Way We Were.
Looking at your track record, I imagine your next project won't be another rom-com?
No! I’m probably going to be doing an action comedy in the States. Which I think is another maligned genre. Like 48 HoursLethal WeaponMidnight Run. It’s pretty far along. We have a cast and great producers and writers, a studio, which will be great. I kind of want to take that Silkwood shower and brush this one off me and go and do a new one. 

The F Word
In theatres August 22