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Definitely, Maybe’ avoids romantic pitfalls

Observer Scene | Thursday, February 21, 2008

Billed as just another romantic comedy with a silly title, “Definitely, Maybe” was definitely a pleasant surprise.

A great ensemble cast, smart dialogue and a creative storyline make “Definitely, Maybe” a worthwhile film. It’s a watch-able romantic comedy that avoids the usual clichés. There are no overly sentimental moments that ruin so many other films of the same genre.

After his daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) has an impromptu sex ed class, she wants to know if she was an accident, and soon-to-be-divorcee Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) obliges Maya with a mostly true version of how he met her mother. Will decides to change all of the names of the women in his narrative, which creates a “mystery love story” (as Maya dubs it) for her to uncover. But more than the story of how he found and lost love, it is the story of Will’s life. As the story evolves so do its characters. Will moves from a youthful liberal fresh out of college to a rueful adult contemplating his past.

Breslin charms as always (though she handles her parents’ divorce surprisingly well), and Reynolds holds his own. It is his best performance to date as he captures the essence of an idealistic kid working on the ’92 Clinton campaign. He has a great combination of charisma, comedic timing and good looks. But the true heart of this film are the three contenders to be Will’s wife. Possibilities range from Emily (Elizabeth Banks), the blonde college sweetheart who worries the big city will change her man, to Summer Hartley (Rachel Weisz), the sultry brunette writer who has an unconventional relationship with her much senior professor (Kevin Kline) to April (Isla Fisher), the apolitical redheaded copy girl who quickly becomes Will’s friend.

With most romantic comedies, the path to the film’s conclusion is apparent and predictable, but the case is not so with “Definitely, Maybe.” All three women have merits, but also flaws, allowing them to be worthy candidates as Maya’s mother.

It also helps that Banks, Weisz, and Fisher’s characters are not stale imitations of women. Instead, they are interesting and independent which makes Will’s choice and the viewers’ even harder. Reynolds acts as the perfect foil for these spunky women.

Fisher particularly shines and is able to create a character distinct from her infamous portrayal of Gloria in “Wedding Crashers.” Her quirky, talkative, free-spirited April is a wonderful offset to Reynolds’ one-track-minded Will. Also, Kline is a scene-stealer as the drunken, womanizing Professor Hampton Roth.

While entirely enjoyable, this film is not going to join the ranks of classic romantic comedies like “Love Actually” or “When Harry Met Sally” anytime soon. Actor Derek Luke is grossly underused as Will’s best friend and business partner, and you never quite know why Will and his wife are getting a divorce.

But the movie was filmed in New York City, which is a refreshing change compared to most NYC-based films. Writer/Director Adam Brooks creates the ’90s ambience with care, remembering the oversized cell phones, the grunge of Kurt Cobain and truly crappy New York apartments.

The film could not have come out at a better time because in addition to a Valentine’s Day release, it is also a whiff of nostalgia of the Clinton days. Will and his coworkers must navigate the rocky waters of Bill’s affair with Gennifer Flowers and his unsuccessful definition of “is.”

Will tells the story of his love life in chronological order with a few interruptions by an inquisitive Maya in the present day. The relationships are relatively realistic interpretations as they show all of the imperfections that come along with love. But, the most engaging love story is that between father and daughter. The two have a wonderful rapport on screen and their love for each other shows. Reynolds is actually a believable dad, Breslin is the heart of the story, and because she cares, we care.

Contact Caitlin Ferraro at cferrar1@nd.edu.