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Arts & Culture

Definitely, Maybe

The central character in Definitely, Maybe , Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds), knows a little something about advertising himself. He works at an ad agency and is currently trying to figure out how to pitch the latest cereal to kids. He’s also trying to figure out how he got stuck in this job when he began his career trajectory as an idealistic volunteer for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992. He also can’t quite figure out how his marriage went sour. Forcing him to put all this into perspective is his precocious (is there any other kind of kid in Hollywood these days?) eleven-year-old daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin of Little Miss Sunshine ). Inspired by her elementary school’s sex education class, Maya is suddenly bursting with questions about sex, adult relationships, and whether or not she was an "accident." Allthis makes Will, who's now a single dad two days a week, very uncomfortable. But Maya insists that he tell her know how the two of them met. She somehow feels that if she can get her dad to remember where his marriage began maybe he won’t get the divorce.

Will is reluctant to relay what he says is a complicated story. But Maya persists. So Will decides recount the past but change everyone’s name and turn it into a "fairy tale." Maya’s excited by this “mystery romance” in which she will have to figure out which of the three women in Will’s life turns out to be her mom. Her choices are Will’s college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks); a smart and career-minded journalist with the silly name of Summer (Rachel Weisz); or the copy girl from the Clinton headquarters named April (Isla Fisher).

Ryan Reynolds and Isla Fisher at Clinton (Bill, not Hillary) campaign headquarters. (Universal)


Ryan Reynolds is an actor looking for a niche that will prove successful. He's tried gross out comedy ( Van Wilder, Waiting ); action ( Blade: Trinty, Smokin' Aces ), horror ( The Amityville Horror ) and now romantic comedy. So far none has provided that breakout role to bump him to A-list status. Definitely, Maybe definitely tries to be a showcase for Reynolds and he proves to be a likable but rather bland leading man. He looks like a more handsome and yuppified Jason Lee but he's less quirky and funny. He's got the same kind of pretty boy appeal as Ben Affleck but he's less smug. In the end he just comes across as a nice but not terribly interesting guy with a minor flair for comedy.

In Definitely, Maybe, Reynolds is surrounded by a quartet of lively actresses. Breslin as his inquisitive daughter, was far more engaging in Little Miss Sunshine . Here she's given the overly contrived role of "plot jump starter." Without her persistant questiosn there would be no film. She borders on annoying but in the end manages to win us over. As the three adult women in Will's life, Fisher proves to be the most quirky, warm and down to earth of the thrtee. Banks is all sweetness and dimpled charm, while Weisz plays the samrt career woman. The nice thing about Definitely, Maybe is its refusal to let any one actress turn into a shrill, blantantly wrong romantic prospect for Will. This is a film where all the characters prove appealing and even smart, and you can see Will being happy with any of the three women.

And just a quick mention of Kevin Kline in a small role as a professor who shacks up with Summer and initially proves an obstacle to any of Will's advances. Kline shows up in fiune form here. He doesn't get a lot of screen time but he makes the most of it. He's a writer's dream because he has a way of delivering lines that makes them seem sharper than they are on the written page.

This is one film where I have to say I am more impressed by what it did NOT do rather than for what it did do. What it did not do is descend into hysterical and dopey physical comedy. It also didn't make Will a clumsy single dad struggling with everything from cooking to picking up his kid on time. As with Juno, this film allows for a nice father-daughter relationship where the two can actually talk to each other. The film also refrains from making the ex-wife a bitch making unreasonable demands on her ex and refusing to grant joint custody over their duaghter. These are all familar things that have marred other romantic comedies. In addition, Definitely, Maybe is also refreshing in suggesting that love doesn’t occur at first sight but rather can be something that takes years to cultivate.


Elizabeth Banks and Ryan Reynolds in Definitely, Maybe (Universal)

The film is directed and written by Adam Brooks, who began his film work as a script supervisor for John Sayles before moving on to trivial romantic comedies like French Kiss, Almost You and Wimbedon . But with Definitely, Maybe he definitely moves up a few notches. The film is still klunky in places – especially in creating the miniature adult Maya and in failing to suggest any real reasons for the divorce – but overall it delivers a nicely structured tale of modern romance. He also weaves in the trials and tribulations of Clinton's re-election campaign nicely into the ups and downs of Will's own life.

Definitely, Maybe (rated PG-13 for sexual content, including some frank dialogue, language and smoking) allows for some genuine emotions and actually suggests the complications that can occur in relationships. There's a refreshing adult quality in the film that kicks the film a notch above the rest of the romantic and comic fare currently available. And kudos to Imaginary Forces for a nice open titles sequence. They used to be best known for doing creepy opens to film such as Seven, The Island of Dr. Moreau and Mimic . Here they do something bright and entertaining.

Companion viewing: Starting Over, Martian Child, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno