2010’s What If…. is a likable, religious-themed twist on the It’s a Wonderful Life formula.
It tells the story of Ben Walker (Kevin Sorbo), who years ago abandoned his girlfriend and his dreams of entering the ministry so that he could be a business executive instead. 15 years later, he’s a ruthless businessman who gives heartless speeches and thinks nothing of running other people out of business. Fortunately, a guardian angel (John Ratzenberger) pops up and punches Ben into unconsciousness. When Ben wakes up, he’s a preacher, he’s married to Wendy (Kristy Swanson), and he’s got two daughters!
Yes, it’s basically a take on It’s A Wonderful Life. Instead of seeing what the world would be like if he had never been born, Ben gets a chance to see what the world would be like if he hadn’t abandoned Wendy. He would be poor, though he would still live in a pretty nice house. However, he’d have a family and he’d have a preaching career.
You can probably guess what happens. Ben refuses to accept that any of this is real. He keeps saying that it’s a dream. He stumbles through his first sermon. He tries to return to the office where he works, just to discover that no one knows who he is. Eventually, he comes to learn that his alternate life isn’t that bad and that, in many ways, it’s actually better than his real life.
And, to be honest, it’s kind of a sweet movie. I mean, obviously, some of how you react to this film will depend on how you feel about religion in general. If you’re a hardcore atheist, this film will probably make you throw a shoe at someone. Don’t watch this film is you’re a hardcore atheist. (Hardcore Democrats might want to avoid it as well, since the film basically stars everyone in Hollywood who voted for Trump.) That said, Kevin Sorbo and Kristy Swanson both give earnest and likable performances and they have a really nice chemistry. The scene where Ben gives a clueless sermon actually is funny, as are the various reactions to the listeners. (One woman thinks Ben is a disgrace while her husband is just happy that the sermon was short.) Much as he did with The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, director Dallas Jenkins manages to tell his story without getting too preachy. He manages to avoid the traps that most other religious films fall into.
As I said, it’s not for everyone but it’s still a sweet-natured film. I do have some issues with the ending because — SPOILER ALERT! — it ignores the fact that real world Ben is starting his family fifteen years later than alternative world Ben did — SPOILER END! — but it’s still a likable twist on the Wonderful Life formula.