Ryan Reynolds and several beautiful women including Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks and Isla Fisher star in the mildly clever romantic comedy Definitely, Maybe, which features Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine. The little girl doesn't get much to do, however, as the movie is based primarily in the past as Reynolds' character tries to explain to her how she came to be in existence. You see, he changes the names of the women in his life so that it's a mystery to us, and to his daughter, in regards to who her mother is. Pretty clever, no?
In fact, I liked the concept behind Definitely, Maybe. As far as romantic comedies go, the movie does keep you guessing as much you choose to care. Furthermore, the screenwriter doesn't go out of his way to make one girlfriend bitchy and the other perfectly nice; all of the women in Reynolds' life have their positives and negatives. More importantly, they all feel like real characters, not just conventions in a story. Weisz, as one might expect, gets the most interesting character, though that doesn't mean she's the one who Reynolds knocks up - or ends up with. Banks gets less of a part but is still likable given her limited screen time. And Fisher, who continues to appear in more and more movies, is hotter than ever - and also turns in a pretty solid performance.
I also continue to like Reynolds more and more as a leading man, and do believe that given the right role, he could really make something of it. Whether he'll be good in a truly serious film I'm not sure, but Definitely, Maybe is one of his best comedies to date. The movie isn't particularly funny, even though it tries to be at times, but it is cute, enjoyable and relatively unpredictable. In fact, its lack of huge laughs is actually a positive; there's less focus on having gags and more on just telling a quality story.
Compliments aside, Defintely, Maybe isn't incredible by any means. It still falls victim to its concept, and once the "gimmick" is removed from the equation it converts into a relatively standard romantic comedy - albeit an abridged version. Its lack of humor makes it pale in comparison to films that have both the laughs and cute factor - Love, Actually comes to mind. Furthermore, it is a cute movie more than it is an emotional one; while I found myself more engaged in the story and who he would end up with, I never felt like it would tug a woman's sentiments in any extreme way.
In one way, Definitely, Maybe is a different, entertaining movie. In another way, it is pretty ordinary and not what I would consider a great romantic comedy. Still, as this genre goes, I'd recommend Definitely, Maybe as it's easy to watch and consistently enjoyable.
Review by Robert Bell (B+)
The inherent problem with the majority of love stories on film is how simply they are presented to the audience. We are often treated to a couple of people thrown together through unforeseen circumstances; they bicker a bit, overcome a conflict, and through a heartfelt speech at a time-sensitive moment decide that they're in love. Those of us who have lived through some of the ups and downs of real day-to-day love know that there is often a bit more too it than that. Our insecurities manifesting themselves in rejection before being rejected, fears of future growth potential, social standings, settling for fear of loneliness, not to mention the sheer bounty of defense mechanisms and idiosyncrasies involved in these matters. The idealist likes the simplicity of these onscreen romances and their escapist roots, whereas the pragmatist feels like flipping the bird at the cutesy couples and their overly simplified issues.
Definitely, Maybe is one of the rare romantic comedies that attempts to add a bit of reality into the proceedings, making it slightly more palatable to those more pragmatic (read: pessimistic) viewers. While the film ultimately bows to the conventions of the genre, it does ebb and flow along the way painting some very believable characters whose attractions and reactions are well handled.
Ryan Reynolds stars as Will Hayes, a political consultant/speechwriter turned ad executive going through a divorce. When his daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) goes through sex education at school she begins to ask questions about the coupling of her parents. Will agrees to tell the story to his daughter, but makes a puzzle out of it, changing the names of the women in his life and altering a few of the facts.
Will tells the story of leaving his good natured, girl-next-door college girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) for two months to follow his ambitions on the Clinton campaign. While he tries to maintain a long distance relationship, he also gravitates towards his political aspirations. Will's true belief systems are revealed mostly through discussions with the apolitical April (Isla Fisher) who scoffs at Will's political naiveté finding amusement in capitalist foundations and structured belief systems. The two mix like oil and water, but have a clear chemistry.
As Will moves up the ladder in his political career he meets the fiercely intelligent career driven journalist Summer (Rachel Weisz) who gives will a healthy does of reality and a slightly more cynical outlook on life.
Writer/Director Adam Brooks has assembled a winner here. His previous writer/director offering The Invisible Circus showed promise with a similarly politically themed romance, but crumbled under the weight of the story it attempted to balance. Brooks has clearly learned from his past experiences creating a much more accessible love story surrounding political events. What makes this film work is how much care was taken in developing each character. It is interesting to watch the evolution of Will Hayes as he learns from the women in his life and the curveballs his career throws at him. He is a fully realized character with some beautiful idealism, and some very tangible flaws. April and Summer are also both wonderfully developed, fully realized characters. April and her grunge era angst is bang on. Anyone who lived in that era knows an April, and loves the movie that much more for it. Summer being the intelligent, distant, and never fully attainable woman destined to crush any idealism surrounding her. The only flaws in Brooks' creation might be some of the cutesy movie-kid interruptions offered by precocious Abigail Breslin. Her perspectives and questioning is often more annoying than it is necessary. Also, Banks' character Emily is never fully fleshed out. She acts more as a cipher for the development of Will than as an independent woman of her own.
The performances are wonderful all around. Rachel Weisz is at her finest as an ambition driven woman who isn't swayed by emotions. It's a character not unlike the one she played in The Shape of Things, albeit a much less dramatic and intentionally mean spirited version. Ryan Reynolds is solidifying himself as leading man material. Anyone familiar with his sitcom roots will likely find this kind of surprising, but his roles in this and 2007's The Nines prove he can carry a film, and fully realize the characters he plays. The real standout in this film however is Isla Fisher. Her character was well developed on the page, but Fisher adds even more dimension in a very grounded portrayal of your angsty college student forced to eventually sell out.
Definitely, Maybe is not a perfect film. It could use a little trimming to cut down the runtime and the father/daughter moments could have been a little less obvious, but it is leaps and bounds beyond other films in this genre. Romantic Comedies are rarely treated to intellectual analysis and character driven motivations. It's refreshing, and as it stands this proves to be one of the best films so far in 2008.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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