Friday 4 September 2015

Movie Review: Definitely, Maybe (2008)

A romantic comedy with an amiable twist, Definitely, Maybe is a backstory of multiple romances leading to a divorce, as told by a father to his young daughter.

Will (Ryan Reynolds) is in the midst of a divorce. He is pressed by his 10 year old daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin), who has just had her first sex education class, to recount the story of all his serious relationships leading up to his marrying her Mom. Will agrees to do so, but hides the real names of his romantic partners to keep Maya guessing as to the identity of her mother.

As a young man Will was a political activist in Wisconsin, deeply in love with college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks). They remain committed to each other as Will moves to New York to work on Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign. In the big city he becomes friends with fellow campaign worker Russell (Derek Luke), and meets the sophisticated Summer (Rachel Weisz) and scrappy photocopy girl April (Isla Fisher). Summer was Emily's former roommate, and is now in a relationship with the much older pompous professor Hampton Roth (Kevin Kline). April is skeptical about politics but struggling to define what she is passionate about.

Will starts to develop feelings of genuine affection for April, but with Emily about to visit New York, Will prepares himself to remain faithful to his first love and propose marriage. But Emily has a surprise and all does not go according to plan. Will's future includes more complex relationships with Summer, April and Emily as Maya is kept guessing as to the identity of Mom and the ultimate destination of Dad's heart.

Written and directed by Adam Brooks, Definitely, Maybe does not stray far from the fundamental tenets of the romantic comedy genre but finds a fresh twist in packing three mini-romances into a charming puzzle as told to a child. The premise allows the film to neatly side-step the predictably of the preordained happy ending demanded by the genre. While it is certain that Will's tale will find an upbeat conclusion, the script is clever enough to conceal which partner will prove to be Maya's mother and the winner of Will's enduring affection.

The three-in-one format also allows the relationships to remain crisp and concise. Emily, Summer and April are provided with enough definition and quirkiness to come to life as individuals. Emily is the small-town girl struggling with her partner's big city political ambitions; Summer travels in literate circles and enjoys the company and mentorship of men like Hampton, and April is struggling to live up to her own potential and move beyond in-built sarcasm to constructive achievement.

All three are appealing and relatively well-rounded women, and it's easy to believe that Will can develop deep relationships with them. The film maintains interest by nurturing three complex affairs of the heart, rather than the typical struggle to maintain momentum with the artificial ups and downs of just one central romance. But in the final 30 minutes Brooks does start to push his concept beyond the limit, cycling through possibilities ever faster to turn a sweet romance into a more cheesy guessing game.

The performances are of the marginally above average variety, with Reynolds, Banks, Weisz and Fisher doing what is expected and a bit more. Fisher emerges with the most compelling portrayal as April, a woman who drifts in and out of Will's life, sometimes as a witness, sometimes as a participant, and always looking for something more meaningful for both of them, just as she is looking for her lost copy of Jane Eyre.

Definitely, Maybe is definitely bound by romantic comedy rules, but just may be bright enough to create some welcome and original wriggle room.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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