“I like it. It’s like a mystery romance.”
Abigail Breslin with Ryan Reynolds in Definitely, Maybe
I steer well clear of most modern romantic comedies. It’s not that there is no romance in me, it’s that there’s no romance in the movies themselves. Mostly they serve up smarmy, insipid gruel that repulses and offends rather than enlightens or entertains. You know, lowest common denominator twaddle dumbed down for suckers or the comatose.
With that in mind, a comedy/romance with a cutesy title like Definitely, Maybe seemed destined to piss me off. Perhaps you can see why I’m a little surprised to report that, not only was I not annoyed, the film actually won me over.
Yes, Definitely, Maybe is essentially weightless, but it’s also charming and sweet. Plus it has a few tricks up its sleeve that make it smarter than the average film of its type and set it apart from the crowd.
The first is the story hook. Rather than a traditional meet-cute, break up, get back together romance, this one begins near the end as Will, a successful New York political consultant played by Ryan Reynolds, receives his final divorce papers. Meanwhile, his 10-year-old daughter Maya (Little Miss Sunshine‘s Abigail Breslin) receives her first sex education lesson, suddenly piquing her interest in the bizarre world of adult relationships. When Will picks her up after school for their weekend together, she’s armed with endless questions about her father’s romantic past and in particular how he fell in love with her mother and why they’re getting divorced. He agrees to tell her the whole messy story with the caveat that he’s going to change the names and leave it up to Maya (and us) to figure out which woman he eventually married. It is, as Maya says, something of a mystery romance told in flashback.
It’s a premise that allows the movie to run the gamut of romantic setups and it’s in these that Definitely, Maybe puts it’s likeable cast to good use and really starts to rise above the rest. For his part, Reynolds is handsome if a bit unspectacular. He was pretty good on TV (Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place) and he handles light comedy well, but I’m not convinced he has the wattage yet to be a big screen romantic lead. Still, he’s good enough to play off the terrific female cast, all of whom really shine.
The first one is blonde Elizabeth Banks (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), Will’s college sweetheart whom he leaves behind for a few months in 1992 to go work on the presidential primary campaign of a candidate named Bill Clinton. Next is brunette Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardner, The Fountain), a liberal, free-spirited journalist and best of all is red-headed Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers), Will’s apolitical best friend. All of these women move in and out of Will’s romantic life at different points in the story and you genuinely root for each one. They might not approach the depth of flesh and blood human beings, but they’re interesting enough in their defined types. Each actress brings her own energy into play and they all have good chemistry with Reynolds.
Not to be overlooked, Abigail Breslin is cute, but not terminally so as Maya. She plays a convincing 10-year-old without stooping to the smart mouthed precociousness that so often infects movie children. Also, Kevin Kline has an amusing supporting part as a drunken, rabble-rousing author.
The finishing touch on Definitely, Maybe that ultimately elevated it for me was how Will’s love life sort of parallels the ups and downs of the Clinton presidency. The disillusionment Will ultimately feels in the man he worked so hard for dovetails his disappointment with a romantic life that doesn’t play out like he once dreamed it would. It’s a subtle layer and not especially profound, but it’s a nice little grace note to an already engaging story and helps hold the whole thing together.
It’s true, the story isn’t exactly a roller coaster of unpredictability. You can see the resolution coming a mile away, but I have to admit it threw me off the scent more than once and it at least caused me to second guess my suspicions. Basically, the movie casts just enough doubt at each turn to cover its tracks if you let it and that’s enough. The mystery isn’t the point really, it’s just the hook and it works.
Though it might not always be surprising, Definitely, Maybe has a knack for tapping into the rhythms of life and the way things and people and circumstances change. It shows how sometimes we meet the right people, but at the wrong time and how it takes a combination of persistence and luck to make a relationship work. It’s not revolutionary, but it adds up to a modest, untraditional and very likeable love story that should appeal to anyone who has ever been in love or who wishes they were. Yes, even a cynic like me.
Definitely, Maybe. USA 2008. Written and directed by Adam Brooks. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Derek Luke and Kevin Kline. 1 hour 45 minutes. MPAA rated PG-13 for sexual content, including some frank dialogue language and smoking. 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Filed under: Review