IF (2 ½ stars out of 4)

The best family movies usually find a way to appeal to both kids and the adults taking them to the theater. In the case of John Krasinski’s “IF,” you could almost make the argument that in this case, the movie’s primary audience is actually the adults. It’s hard to say if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

“IF” is the story of a pre-teen girl who discovers a hidden world of rejected imaginary friends. Bea (Cailey Fleming) has just arrived in New York City with her father (Krasinski). She’ll be staying with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw) while Dad undergoes a heart operation. This would be scary enough on its own, but to make matters worse, Bea’s mother has already passed away years earlier.

At 12 years old, Bea’s entire world is awkward, even when she isn’t facing the ravages of parental mortality. But then she discovers a group of cartoonish characters living in the unit on the top floor of her grandmother’s building. Their caretaker is Cal (Ryan Reynolds), an ex-clown who has been tasked with managing the lives of imaginary friends whose assigned children have grown up and forgotten their old pals.

While Dad gets ready for his surgery, Bea starts spending time with Cal and a couple of the imaginary friends, including Blue (voiced by Steve Carell). Eventually Cal takes her to the secret retirement home for the friends, deep under the facilities at Coney Island. Here Bea realizes her true mission: help Cal to reconnect the friends with their long-lost kids.

As “IF” digs deeper into its layers of meaning, it becomes clear that Krasinski’s film is more about the sorrows of lost innocence and the burden of adulthood than entertaining kids. In spite of the cute and cartoonish characters that fill the screen, the film carries a sad melancholy that goes for the heartstrings more often than you might expect.

The centerpiece of this theme is Bea, who has lost one parent and is bracing against the possibility of losing another. Fleming’s performance is spot on as a kid who is clinging to childhood, with all of its hopes and wonders, while feeling the burden of approaching adulthood, and the shadow of real life.

Reynolds is a nice choice as Cal, and his natural charm is a good match for a character that kids will take to. At the same time, he’s not given too much to do, and “IF” won’t go down as one of his more memorable performances.

It isn’t hard to see “IF” as a close cousin to 2015’s “Inside Out,” which followed the struggles of another pre-teen girl adjusting to some dramatic changes in life (in her case, a family move to San Francisco). “IF” almost feels like a feature-length riff on the sequence about Riley’s own forgotten imaginary friend, Bing Bong.

“Inside Out” is the better choice for kids, but thanks to its meaningful story, “IF” is able to score enough points to move it into the “good” category. A little more sweet might have helped this bittersweet film appeal more to the young moviegoers needed to make it successful, but adults who see “IF” may find some unexpected value in its 104 minutes.

“IF” is rated PG for adult themes, mild profanity and animated mayhem.

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