When Your Imaginary Friend Becomes a Movie Star

In the new family comedy “IF,” Ryan Reynolds plays a frazzled matchmaker who, with help from a young girl (Cailey Fleming), unites humans with imaginary friends.

John Krasinski, who wrote and directed the film, said the idea took shape as he watched his daughters’ lights dim during the pandemic.

“They were playing fewer and fewer imaginary games and I could see they were letting the fears of the real world in and I thought, this is the definition of growing up,” he explained in an email.

He said he decided to make the movie, now in theaters, to show his kids that the “magical world they’ve created, that place of such joy and hope and magic, exists. And you can always go back.”

Krasinski isn’t alone in bringing imaginary friendships to life this year. “IF” is one of five new movies that explore imaginary friends, in a variety of genres: supernatural horror (“Imaginary”), adult comedy (“Ricky Stanicky”), children’s animated fantasy (“The Imaginary”) and documentary (“My Secret Country”).

Why the convergence? Marjorie Taylor, professor emerita of psychology at the University of Oregon and an expert on imaginary friends, wasn’t sure. But she said she wasn’t surprised, considering that pretend friends, as she calls them, have long been artistic catnip.

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