Movie Review; Definitely, Maybe
By Matthew Huntley
February 28, 2008
Definitely, Maybe works better than most romantic comedies because it sees its characters as real, complicated people instead of, say, the kind of people we usually see in a romantic comedies. So often with this genre, the actors are relegated to playing dopes who are never smart enough to realize what the audience already knows, which, most of the time, means the two leads should be together.
But what's intriguing about Definitely, Maybe is that nobody knows who should be with whom, or even who, at one point, ends up with whom. At last, in a romantic comedy, anything seems possible, which is rare and refreshing.
Ryan Reynolds, surprisingly smart, humble and sympathetic here, plays William Hayes, an advertising executive and grass widower with a precocious little daughter named Maya (Abigail Breslin). Maya's school has just introduced a sex ed course, and that means Maya has a whole bunch of questions for her father. When he picks her up, she commandingly says, "We've gotta talk," and starts using words like "penis," "vagina" and "thrust" in the same sentence.
She also inquires about accidental pregnancies, asking, "How can two people accidentally have sex?" She even wonders if she herself was an accident, which might explain why her parents are getting a divorce. To put her mind at ease, she asks her dad to tell her the story of how he and her mom met, which will hopefully convince her they were really in love when they got pregnant. She's curious about relationships and how two people who have a baby together could possibly split up. Will assures her the story ends happily.
Will tells Maya he moved from Madison, Wisconsin to New York City to work on the '92 Clinton campaign, and through it all, he dated three different women. He gives them all pseudonyms to disguise which one is Maya's mother.
Woman #1: Emily (Elizabeth Banks), Will's college sweetheart with whom he has "big plans." She's afraid New York will change him and they'll grow apart. Woman #2: April (Isla Fisher), a copy girl at Clinton's campaign headquarters. She could care less about politics but has ambitions that are more philanthropic and exploratory. Woman #3: Summer Hartley (Rachel Weisz), a journalist and graduate student sleeping with her thesis advisor, a lush, cynical writer named Hampton Roth (Kevin Kline).
Each of these women has her own attractive qualities and, at more than one point, we believe anyone of them could be Maya's mother. The story keeps us involved and guessing but never cheats its way out of possibilities, which is also why it's sort of fun to watch. There are no absolute clues that suggest who it could be. Even better is how writer-director Adam Brooks develops his characters and gives them smart, interesting dialogue so that we don't solely focus on the mystery of the mother. I simply enjoyed listening to these people talk.
Brooks makes this romantic comedy about something other than a silly, storybook romance. It's about young adults who have not yet figured things out, about 20-somethings unsure of who they're supposed to be, and figuring out what makes us happy while, at the same time, being honest with ourselves. Setting this all around the Clinton campaign was a nice touch because it gave the story a relevant historical context that affected the characters' lives. It's not parodied or made light of.
Given the romantic material, it's essential the cast believes in what they're saying in order for it to work, and Reynolds, Banks, Fisher and Weisz all do. They know they've found a mature script and a confident filmmaker to direct them. Credit should also be given to editor Peter Teschner for balancing the story so well between the four main players. The multiple plots come together and remain coherent so that we care about all of them.
It surprises me to write so highly of Definitely, Maybe, probably because it follows its title and knows that when it comes to relationships, even if love is there, nothing is definite. Relationships take work and it was nice to see a movie that knew and respected this rather than dumbing it down for cheap laughs. It admires its characters and we're able to see ourselves in them.
Just to give you an example - the beginning shows Will walking down the streets of New York City while listening to "Everyday People" by Sly & The Family Stone. Notice how he drowns out the entire world around him, striding happily because he's done with work and about to pick up Maya. I'm sure we've all done this at one point in our lives, where we've felt like we're the only ones alive and everything is right with the world. That the movie allows the entire song to play shows how much it believes in itself, and we're grateful for that.