February 18, 2008

Movie Review: Definitely, Maybe

In this day and age it is rare to find a romantic film that has the least bit of originality. It is like there is no desire to make any attempt at pushing the boundaries of genre conventions. More often, studios are content to toe the line, churning out lame, predictable romantic comedy after lame, predictable romantic comedy. That is what makes Definitely, Maybe a breath of fresh air. No, it isn't the most original creation, nor is it likely to have any real and lasting mark on the genre, but that does nothing to dampen the enjoyment that can be gleaned from the film. It is even more refreshing in the wake of such "gems" as Over Her Dead Body and 27 Dresses (which was fun, but truly bought into genre clich├ęs).

Definitely, Maybe is not a movie that requires any deep thinking, but at the same time it does not insult the audience. On top of that, I actually found the love story mystery set up to be rather effective. Perhaps I am getting a little soft in my old age, but this movie really got to me, and I have to admit to getting a little dusty as we got towards the climax. I truly did get caught up in the mystery, the loves, and lives of the players involved.

We begin with the introduction of William Hayes (Ryan Reynolds). He is an ad executive whose favorite days of the week are those that he gets to pick up his daughter, Maya (Abigail Breslin), from school. However, this day is different from all the others. You see, before he can go pick her up, he receives papers that will finalize his pending divorce. The adventure continues when he learns that she received a day of sex ed. This class combined with his pending divorce has given Maya some questions. She questions the concept of love in her father's life, and believes that if he tells her about how they met, discussing the facts will uncover reason to keep the marriage alive. So begins the journey into Will's love history, with names changed forcing Maya to guess who her mother is.

It is a little weird, relating the story of your past loves to your young daughter, but it is a conceit I am willing to go along with, particularly when the end result is as good as this is. Anyway, Maya settles in with her pillows and stuffed animals as Will takes us back in time, all the way to 1992. It was that year that he left his college sweetheart, Emily (Elizabeth Banks), behind in Wisconsin to go to New York and work for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign. It is in New York that he meets Emily's college roommate, Summer Hartley (Rachel Weisz), and campaign copy girl April Hoffman (Isla Fisher).

Now which one will it be? Who is Maya's mother? Surprisingly, I was not sure until the moment it was revealed. I am sure that if I wanted to I could have predicted who the mystery woman was. However, the point is that the story did not give it away too early, the story was compelling enough not to make me want to guess. I was so into the film that I had no desire in trying to race Maya to the finish and make the guess.

Sure, Definitely, Maybe is not a perfect movie and the story is certainly sanitized for the in-movie audience, but it still has a pleasantly organic flow to the way the relationships grow and develop. It is not like each character Will encounters he immediately falls in love with. As Will says to Maya: "It's complicated." That's true, life and love are complicated, they are never as simple as they are generally portrayed in films and television. In this sense, Definitely, Maybe allows its characters to have lives and not be completely tied to one another.

The performances are all quite good, with Isla Fisher being the biggest standout. Ryan Reynolds is affable enough in the lead. Could this be the next step to the A list? Perhaps, but I am not holding my breath. Abigail Breslin is fine in her Fred Savage in The Princess Bride-type role.

The heart and soul is truly contained within the three women in Will's life. Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz, and Isla Fisher all bring a different heat to the screen. Each one brings a different element to the screen, each offering something new to Will's life. For my money, it is Isla Fisher who delivers the most captivating performance of the trio. The relationship just hits at a different level and really connected with me.

Writer/director Adam Brooks does a fine job of creating a compelling tale that avoids the expectations of the genre while still delivering a relatable experience to all. He has given us a film where there are no "bad guys," but where the inhabitants have their own desires and dreams which will converge and veer away from the others. It is well written and compelling. This is definitely a film that can be at the very least considered to join the upper ranks of moder romcoms.

Bottomline. Much better than I was expecting. It could probably have gone a step or two further, but it is not completely necessary. Strong performances, good characters, and good writing carry this film to a successful conclusion that satisfactorily wraps everything up.

Recommended.

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