You might not think watching a guy seduce a trio of women for 90 minutes would make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but that’s how I felt after watching Definitely, Maybe.
Sure the dialogue is sometimes scoff-worthy, and leading man Ryan Reynolds (Just Friends, Van Wilder) is probably more comfortable playing a collegiate smartass than a loving father; but in the realm of romantic comedies, if the story isn’t completely ludicrous and there’s a smattering of honest laughs, you’re way ahead of the curve.
The most endearing aspect of Definitely, Maybe is the way it sugarcoats love, without oversaturating it. Despite its PG-13 limitations, the film is frank about the role sex can play in idiotic romantic decisions, and it paints a skewed, but somewhat candid picture, of how relationships can come together and fall apart before either party knows what they’ve gotten into.
The story begins with Will Hayes (Reynolds) lamenting his status as a newly divorced father who peddles sugary cereals to children. He shakes off his gloomyness and heads over to pick up his daughter Maya (Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin) from school, only to find that Maya’s class has been given a surprise course in sex education.
Maya is a precocious child (is there any other kind in movies these days?) and she demands an explanation for the behaviors she’s just learned about. The discussion moves from sexual intercourse in general, to an examination of Will’s own activities under the sheets. In an effort to bring Will and Maya’s mother back together, Maya convinces her father to tell the story of how Will and her mom met. Will agrees under one condition: He gets to change all the names of the women in the story and she has to figure out which one is her mother.
First we meet Emily (Fred Clause and Invincible’s Elizabeth Banks), Will’s college sweetheart. Their relationship is immediately strained when Will goes to work as a low-level employee for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. Then there’s April (Isla Fisher from Wedding Crashers and Hotrod fame) the pessimistic, wisecracking copy maker at Clinton’s campaign headquarters in New York. She and Will have an immediate chemistry, but Will is still dating Emily and April has a thing for aspiring rock stars.
Finally, there’s Summer (The Constant Gardener’s Rachel Weisz), a passionate and slightly dangerous New York intellectual. Summer has feelings for Will, but she’s also in love with down-and-out author/alcoholic Hampton Roth played by Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda, As You Like It).
The film does an admirable job of capturing the zeal and political intrigue surrounding Clinton’s campaign, but the story is also peppered with clichéd ’90s nostalgia (remember huge cell phones and dial-up Internet? Boy those were wild times!) It doesn’t make you pine for the days of grunge, but it is nice to be reminded of the pre-neo con era.
In what is likely the most critically accepted film of his career, Reynolds gets into trouble when his character’s emotions run high. He can be captivating and charismatic without breaking a sweat, but heartbreak seems hard to fathom for the Hollywood hunk. Still, Reynolds shows more range than you might expect from the star of Waiting and some of the film’s cheesier moments are overcome by his understated charm.
It’s sometimes easy to forget the whole point of the movie is to figure out which one of Will’s love interests is Maya’s mother. The destination isn’t as fulfilling as the journey since, after all, Will’s story inevitably ends in divorce. It’s also hard to root for one partner over the other since they’re so evenly matched. Summer is smart and exciting, but she’s obsessed with a drunk. April keeps Will on his toes, but she’s always dating a scumbag. Emily is nice enough, but dull as mayonnaise.
Definitely, Maybe is sure to entice rom-com aficionados, but it’s unclear whether the film can attract a broader audience. While he won’t be getting any Oscar nods, writer/director Adam Brooks (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) has crafted an engaging story that, while silly at times, is also honest about love’s shortcomings.
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