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United States, 2008
Directed By: Adam Brooks
Written By: Adam Brooks
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz
Running Time: 111 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, including some frank dialogue, language and smoking
I’d love to tell you that Definitely, Maybe somehow reinvents the romantic comedy, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. It’s simply a very good specimen of the formula. It’s not especially memorable, but it’s very well done, with a smart script, a talented cast, some excellent editing, and some unexpected twists here and there. This is a genre picture through and through, but you’re not likely to find a better one anytime soon.
Written and directed by Adam Brooks (who’s made a name for himself as a script writer for romantic comedies like French Kiss and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason), Definitely, Maybe is a film that borrows quite blatantly from the two titans of the genre, When Harry Met Sally and Annie Hall. Fortunately, it borrows from them smartly—i.e., it learns from their honest, messy human drama, rather than simply ripping off plot points. Ryan Reynolds stars as Will Hayes, an advertising consultant who’s going through an unpleasant divorce. His daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin, Signs), seeking to understand the nature of love and its demise, demands that he tell her the story of how he met her mother. Will complies, but with the caveat that he’s changing all the names and that April will have to guess which of the many females in the story is actually her mother.
The majority of the film, then, is told in flashback, in the form of—as Maya puts it—a “romance mystery.” Since the viewers haven’t yet seen April’s mother, we’re in on the guessing game as well. Will begins in 1992, the year of his graduation from college, and takes us into the present day, recounting his various loves and losses—sort of like Forrest Gump, except without the pretensions of importance. I don’t know how you feel about films with tacked-on nostalgia (think The Wedding Singer—would that movie have been at all different had it been set in the present day?), but personally I can find them a tad annoying. The good news is that Definitely, Maybe doesn’t spend a whole lot of screen time skewering grunge music and dial-up Internet (come on guys, the 90’s were not that long ago); it just uses it as a background for its characters to riff against. The actors do very well with the material, sliding between comic banter and subtle slapstick with relative ease.
Brooks wisely keeps the focus where it belongs—the subtleties of Will’s relationships with his lady friends (all of which are played quite well by Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Banks, and Rachel Weisz), and the moments he has with them are all just as believable as they are comical. There’s a bit of gimmickry towards the end (which was, unfortunately, ripped straight out of Serendipity), but by that point it’s more than earned it, through its nuanced characters and complex storytelling.
Admittedly, the conclusion feels a little tacked-on and unbelievable, but what can I say? Brooks clearly knows his audience here. It might lack a bit of credibility for people that live in the real world, but it’s definitely the happy ending that most of the crowd is looking for.Definitely, Maybe isn’t a film that will stick with you particularly long, but it is a good story, and it is a fun time at the box office. If you’ve got a couple hours to kill, you really can’t go wrong here.