Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz, Kevin Kline, Derek Luke
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
There's a place in Hollywood for Ryan Reynolds.
Isn't it ironic, don't you think, that the man who recently experienced a broken engagement to rocker Alanis Morisette would suddenly star in one of the most intelligent romantic comedies in recent times?
"Definitely, Maybe," from writer/director Adam Brooks (screenwriter, "French Kiss" and "Wimbledon"), is the perfect flick for couples celebrating Valentine's Day this weekend with its intelligent script, equal treatment of both men and women, and slightly French variation on the themes of love, commitment and growing into manhood.
The film opens with Will (Reynolds), a successful advertising executive sitting at his desk opening up the papers that will seal his divorce. In one of the better opening credit sequences I've come across in awhile, Will bebops his way over to his daughter's school to pick her up for one of their twice weekly visits where he quickly learns the students have been about sex that very day.
Of course, this leads to a few funny scenes but, most importantly, to the film's core, a conversation between dad and Maya (Abigail Breslin) about how he met and fell and love with her mother.
Will decides to tell his 11-year-old daughter the truth, and thus begins a tale of past girlfriends, growing up, making choices, occasional regrets, sadness, lost opportunities and so much more. The fact that Brooks weaves "Definitely, Maybe" into a kind of romantic mystery makes the characters even that more emotionally resonant as the film moves forward through Will's young adult years.
As Will changes the names of nearly all the ex-girlfriends, Maya will along the way attempt to figure out which one is her mother and, she hopes, be able to convince her father to go back.
The beauty of "Definitely, Maybe" is that it recognizes that love is more complicated than such simple choices and yet definitely, maybe, it really all can still work out in the end.
"Definitely, Maybe" is a surprisingly honest and authentic film with sprinkles of hopefulness spread throughout its proceedings.
Politics is a key player in the backstory of "Definitely, Maybe" as the story essentially begins when a younger Will is offered a 2-month stint as a New York staffer on the Clinton campaign and must leave behind in Wisconsin his college sweetheart, Emily (Elizabeth Banks), who is mostly afraid of Will's political ambitions.
Will's maturation practically parallel's that of political scenes in which he works, from youthful idealism to grounded reality. The story will weave its way through the sweet, charming and perpetually dysfunctional April (Isla Fisher), an apolitical fellow staffer who works for Clinton mainly because it pays more than babysitting and Summer (Rachel Weisz), Emily's former best friend and an up-and-coming writer whose boyfriend (Kevin Kline) is a college professor and noted political writer.
Brooks' script remembers these women the way most men, myself included, remember their former loves...sentimentally, as beautiful and intelligent bestowers of life's valuable lessons. In the film, it's a sentimentality based upon intelligence and maturation rather than maudlin emotion and shallow desires.
Ultimately, it works because Brooks has assembled an incredibly gifted cast that takes this rather basic storyline and weaves it into an entertaining, heartfelt story growing into oneself and recognizing one's own truths about life and love.
10 years ago, "Definitely, Maybe" would have starred Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant abd the two leads would have made it obvious which woman was really Maya's mother. While Ryan Reynolds is certainly no Hugh Grant, he does offer Grant's sense of aloofness in the face of both great joy and utter disappointment.
Reynolds wouldn't have been my first choice here, as he hasn't yet stretched his acting muscles enough to reach the emotional vulnerability needed during the sadder and more emotionally revealing scenes in "Definitely, Maybe." This said, Reynolds is at the top of his game here and doesn't embarrass himself while holding court with the likes if Weisz, Banks and Fisher.
It is the trifecta of leading ladies, along with a scene-stealing supporting performance from Kevin Kline, that keeps "Definitely, Maybe" afloat and turns it into such an emotionally resonant and intellectually satisfying romantic comedy.
Elizabeth Banks ("Fred Claus," "Spider-Man 3") is appropriately complex as Will's college sweetheart, a young woman who clings to that simple world as long as she can before growing into her own person.
While Summer isn't particularly an acting stretch for Weisz, she takes her character's rather ruthless nature and throws in ever so slight touches of humanity and vulnerability that add up to a layered complexity beneath her surface ambitions.
Then, then is what can best be described as a revelatory performance from Isla Fisher ("Wedding Crashers" "Hot Rod"). Fisher has been rapidly becoming one of my favorite leading actresses, an actress capable of the Meg Ryan/Julia Roberts type of romantic performance with sincerity, humor, vulnerability and absolute zest. While she exhibited flashes of brilliance in her ill-conceived pairing with Andy Samberg, Fisher comes vividly to life as April, a woman who is simultaneously, free-spirited, wounded and more emotionally available than any man can seemingly fully appreciate.
Abigail Breslin, the current darling of young actresses, isn't called upon to do much in a fairly one-note role as Maya, though Breslin adds a nice spark to it, while Derek Luke ("Antwone Fisher") shows up nicely as one of Will's fellow Clinton staffers and best friends.
A haggard-looking Kevin Kline shows up and reminds us all why he once won an Academy Award, with a scene-stealing turn as an idealistic, if slightly hypocritical, political writer and college professor whose propensity for freshman girlfriends is both funny and rather sad.
Intellectually and emotionally satisfying, "Definitely, Maybe" is February 2008's alternative film...it's an alternative to the sea of mediocrity currently finding its way into multiplexes everywhere without compromising the desire most audiences have to simply be entertained during a time of year that brings out primarily Oscar nominees and Larry the Cable Guy films.
Maybe? No, definitely, you should find your way to the movie theatre this weekend to catch "Definitely, Maybe."
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic