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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Review: Definitely, Maybe (2008)

* * * 1/2

Director: Adam Brooks
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks

It would be easy to say that a considerable part of Definitely, Maybe’s success stems from the fact that I’ve come to expect so little from the romantic comedy genre. However, to say that would be to do a great disservice to this film, which is so utterly charming and engaging. Carefully crafted and wonderfully executed, this is far from your typical romcom.

Will (Ryan Reynolds) is in the process of a divorce, hates his job, and has lost his youthful idealism. The only bright spot in his life is his daughter, Maya (Abigail Breslin), who begs him to tell her the story of how he met her mother. Refusing to be swayed by his claim that the story is “complicated,” Maya finally wears Will down and he agrees to tell her the story on one condition: the names of the women in his life will be changed and she has to guess which character in his story is based on her mother.

Will’s story begins in the summer of 1992, when he’s just out of college and is about to spend the summer in New York, campaigning for Bill Clinton. His story will ultimately chart not only his romantic relationships, but also the progress of his political ideals as the scandals surrounding Bill Clinton, whom Will at one time idolized, come to disillusion him completely. The three women who figure into Will’s story are Emily (Elizabeth Banks), his college sweetheart; April (Isla Fischer), a fellow campaign worker with whom he has great chemistry but bad timing; and Summer (Rachel Weisz), a reporter who is an old friend (and slightly more) of Emily’s. I don’t really want to go into the details of these three relationships, because the way that the film allows them to unfold is really wonderful and a large part of the reason why the film works so well.

There are a lot of things that I really loved about this movie – too many to name them all, so I’ll limit myself to just a few. First, there’s the story itself which is so very well constructed. By structuring it the way that it does, the film effectively sidesteps many clichés of its genre – it hits on a few, but also consciously acknowledges them as clichés through Maya’s commentary. It also allows the characters to develop in realistic ways. More often than not, romantic comedy characters are just that – characters who could only exist in a romantic comedy – but here they are people with depth and, refreshingly, intelligence. So often, the plot of a romantic comedy hinges on a kind of obligatory stupidity ascribed to the characters, but these characters are intelligent. They don’t always make the best choices, but they aren’t stupid.

I only really have one criticism of the film, which is that it tips its hand a little early. I mean, if there are three love interests and one them utters the words in the title and also just happens to be the one with the most screentime of the three, then you can kind of guess where it’s going. However, that didn’t detract at all from my absolute enjoyment of this film.


Rick Olson said...

I, who love a good rom-com, enjoyed this one greatly. Fine review.

Norma Desmond said...

With most romantic comedies, I usually find myself wanting to like it more than I actually do, but I loved this one from beginning to end. In certain respects it reminded me of some of Woody Allen's films.