Definitely, Maybe (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

In spite of an awkward title and an uninspired choice for the leading man, Definitely, Maybe nevertheless manages to charm with its bittersweet story of love and loss that ends on an upbeat and romantic note. The movie starts out as one thing but, via a sleight of hand that would impress a magician, it metamorphoses into something different. This romantic comedy/drama is structured in such a way that the outcome does not feel predetermined, and it's amazing how much a little unpredictability can result in increased character identification. It's also refreshing to watch a movie of this sort in which one doesn't know who represents "true love," who represents "romantic complications," and who might represent something else altogether. For writer/director Adam Brooks (who previously scripted the underrated Wimbledon), the ambitious result is not without flaws but, on the whole, it is a success.

The film begins with Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) opening the papers that will make his divorce final. He then meets his daughter, Maya (Abigail Breslin), at school and they return to his home where she will spend the night. (He apparently has an amicable relationship with his ex.) Maya wants Will to tell her a bedtime story - she wants to hear the tale of his romance with her mother (secretly hoping that memories will encourage him not to take the final step in dissolving the union). He reluctantly agrees but says he'll change all the names. There are other women in the story and she has to guess which one represents her mother. It could be Emily (Elizabeth Banks), Will's college sweetheart. He leaves her behind in Wisconsin in 1992 so he can go to New York and campaign for Bill Clinton. There, he meets Summer (Rachel Weisz), Emily's friend and ex-lover, who is a little on the wild side and is having a fling with her thesis advisor, Hampton Roth (Kevin Kline). Finally, there's fellow Clinton co-worker April (Isla Fisher), who doesn't think much of marriage but thinks a lot of friendship. There's even a possibility that the movie might pull a fast one and make Maya's mother one of the largely inconsequential characters who wander in and out of Will's life.

With the exception of occasional breaks in the "future" with Will and Maya, the story progresses in chronological fashion. It details Will's relationships will all three women and, until late in the proceedings, leaves open the question of who Maya's mother is. It also provides another intriguing possibility that I won't discuss here. Even those viewers who correctly guess the identity of Will's wife may not figure out the entire story. Brooks has created a romantic mystery and, while it's not all that complicated, it offers a few deviations from the norm. Definitely, Maybe also doesn't believe that love conquers all, although it extols its values and healing powers. There's also a vague underlying sense of sadness. After all, the movie begins with a divorce so we know how one of these promising relationships is going to end.

I have been unimpressed by Ryan Reynolds since I saw him strut through Van Wilder and stumble through Just Friends. His range is limited and its edges become apparent during some of Definitely, Maybe's more emotional scenes. His co-stars - the talented, attractive trio of Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz, and Isla Fisher - pull off these moments with seeming ease but it occasionally is forced with Reynolds. He's not bad in the role, but he's not good, either. He's adequate - an adjective that isn't typically recognized as a ringing endorsement. Definitely, Maybe tugs at the heartstrings from time-to-time, yet one has the feeling that with an actor of greater accomplishment, it could been a real tear-jerker. Kevin Kline's supporting turn as a besotted professor/author is a scene-stealer while Derek Luke is largely invisible as Will's best friend and co-Clintonite.

The film's ending does a lot of things right and answers all of the unanswered questions. It ties up plot threads without seemingly trying too hard and gives us a not altogether unexpected twist to the linear progression of things. It's a typical ending to a romantic saga for something that is otherwise atypical. Definitely, Maybe is a good date movie - not only because of the warm, fuzzy feelings it engenders but because it does so without demeaning the audience's intelligence. Brooks' take on the ups and downs of modern romance and the unexpected turns it takes is smart, funny, and (above all) uncommon. It's not hard to recommend this on Valentine's Day or at any other time.

Definitely, Maybe (United States, 2008)

Director: Adam Brooks
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Derek Luke, Kevin Kline
Screenplay: Adam Brooks
Cinematography: Florian Ballhaus
Music: Clint Mansell
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:50
U.S. Release Date: 2008-02-14
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1