Friday, June 14, 2024

Liza Colón-Zayas on Why Imagination Matters More Than Ever in the Age of AI

Liza Colón-Zayas at the IF premiere

“IF” is heartwarming, charming, and funny. It reminds us that, in a world of AI and algorithms, imagination is necessary at any age. I think this is why it will not be a surprise if it’s in the top three-grossing films this weekend. With a great cast, including the voice acting, the film is a magical escape from the real world. Actress Liza Colón-Zayas, who plays Janet, was kind enough to talk to Taji Mag about her experience on the set of the film and why imagination matters in today’s heavily reliant AI age.

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): What was it like to work with John Krasinski as a director?

Liza Colón-Zayas (LCZ): He was so much fun to work with. He’s a master at directing and producing, handling all the technical stuff with ease. Plus, he’s a brilliant actor. He’s always in a good mood. He was like the cheerleader for everybody on set.

DDF: Is the playful behavior we see in the film reflective of John’s off-screen personality?

LCZ: It was amazing, so much energy, and (John) was always wanting to keep everybody having fun. 

DDF: Can you share a specific memory of an imaginary friend? 

LCZ: I didn’t have one specific role model. I’m a TV kid. One day, I was Batman; the next day, I was Robin. Depending on who I was pretending to be, I’d talk (to the other heroes) and create all kinds of worlds, running around and immersing myself in different series.

Cailey Fleming and BLUE star in Paramount Pictures’ “IF.”

DDF: In an era increasingly dominated by AI and algorithms, how do you think imagination remains important for humans?

LCZ: I can’t believe that I belong. I’m on a planet where we used to play outside. It would take effort for me to get the grandkids to want to go outside. Are you kidding me? We would beg to go to the park. So, I hope that we all receive the message to nurture that imagination for adults and kids alike. It’s okay. It’s really good for the soul to remember how fun it used to be when we could imagine magic and fantastical beings. Seeing IF on the big screen was a wonderful reminder of that feeling. Having that reminder was so good for me, and I think we all need it. It’s vital.

DDF: If your character Tina from The Bear had an “IF,” what would it look like, and how would she interact with it? 

LCZ: Oh wow, that’s such a good question. If Tina had an ‘IF,’ I think she and her ‘IF’ would just create the most ridiculous desserts and treats imaginable. We would try to create anything and everything you can think of. It would be so much fun—the two of us together.

Why should you watch IF

First, the film is written and directed by John Krasinski, who has already proven with A Quiet Place and A Quiet Place Part II that he understands how to turn the human spirit and experiences into a compelling and relatable story. He knows how to tap into various emotions through dialogue and keeps audiences engaged by using effective camera angles and lighting. He does this a lot in IF, especially when we are introduced to the IFs in the film. You see a lot of warm colors when they experience happiness and duller colors when they are sad.

Cailey Fleming plays Bea, the lead character. She is a young girl who struggles with the loss of her mother and doesn’t acknowledge herself as a child, losing her identity and embracing her age. Seeing her growth and ability to overcome her emotional obstacles was interesting. 

Ryan Reynolds plays Bea’s grumpy but caring neighbor, Cal, who is tasked with finding owners for the IFs with Bea’s help. Reynolds brings a more grumpy version of himself to the role, which is always entertaining no matter what character he plays. He had great chemistry with Bea, largely because Fleming plays off Reynolds’ energy on screen so well. It was charming to see Bea try to cheer up Cal and how both characters grow throughout the course of the film.

The star-studded voice acting was an A+ for me! Steve Carell’s lovable, big-personality, big purple furry monster, Blue, stole every scene he was in. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a spin-off series featuring Blue and the others as well. Other characters were hilarious just by their physical appearance, like Ice (Bradley Cooper), who is basically a glass of water, and Marshmallow (John Krasinski), who is a burning marshmallow. This randomness added a unique charm.

I loved how Brad Pitt voiced Keith, an invisible IF who kept tripping Ryan Reynolds’ character, Cal. This played off his invisible character, Vanisher, from “Deadpool 2.” Of course, there had to be a “Deadpool” Easter egg in here somewhere—the movie stars Ryan Reynolds, after all.

Ryan Reynolds and Cailey Fleming star in Paramount Pictures’ “IF.”

Louis Gossett Jr. voiced Lewis, an old teddy bear with a worn brown fedora and a cane. Every time I heard his voice, I got choked up because he recently passed, and he embodied the spirit of an old grandpa. This was the purpose of his character as he ran the retirement home for the IFs, but I couldn’t help but get watery-eyed (trust me, I tried to see if anyone was cutting onions). There were a few times I pretended to yawn to wipe away what would be tears in memory of Gossett.

My only drawback was that I wish we could have seen a few more scenarios where Bea and Cal tried to match the IFs with children who needed them. Maybe shorten the scenes at the IF retirement home. I also thought the ending could have slightly dialed back on the emotional scenes. I understand the aim of the film, but at times, it felt like it was trying too hard to pull on the emotional strings.

There’s also the old lady character, who is described as a witch. She didn’t have much presence in the film and wasn’t given much explanation about why she was perceived as a threat.

What I like about the storyline is that it explores children’s imagination and adults’ imagination. We all could use a bit of imagination nowadays. In a time when algorithms heavily influence AI, like ChatGPT and social media, it’s good to use something that doesn’t require a power outlet or is influenced by followers. Good ol’ imagination is how society has evolved over the years. Could we have things like cars, airplanes, or the internet without it? Probably not. This is why I think it is important that everyone sees this movie, to remember to unplug for a while and get in tune with your imagination.

“IF” is in theaters everywhere now. 

Dapper Dr Feel

Felipe Patterson aka Dapper Dr. Feel, #BlackLoveConvo & Entertainment | @fdapperdr Dapper Dr. Feel is a Entertainment journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association and African American Film Association.

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