A little over a month ago, I reviewed “27 Dresses,” which fits about every description of the stereotypical “chick flick” that one can imagine. You have the female protagonist who can’t find a good man, the man she pines for, the romantic foil, the wisecracking best friend, a few silly characters making brief appearances and, of course, the guy she can’t stand when she first meets him but whom we all know she will fall in love with by the end of the movie.
Side question: why is this particular male character such a cliché in movies marketed to women? I’m certainly not an expert, but it seems like most women will tell you that whenever they meet a guy, they know whether or not he has a chance with them within minutes. Maybe this character is appealing to women because they want to believe that men can still surprise them. I have no idea. But anyway, I digress.
“Definitely, Maybe” turns the traditional romantic comedy formula on its head with what Abigail Breslin’s character, Maya, calls a “mystery love story.” After an unexpected sex education class at school, which horrifies most of the kids and their parents, Maya demands that her dad, Will (Ryan Reynolds), tell her how he met her mom. The proceedings take on an extra layer of sadness because Will and Maya’s mother are in the process of a divorce.
Of course, the premise of “Definitely, Maybe” is extremely similar to the TV show, “How I Met Your Mother,” which I have never seen, but have heard good things about. So it might be a bit derivative, but don’t let that hold you back. The story that unfolds is funny, messy in the way that life can be and often touching. Will starts his narrative in 1992, when he left his college sweetheart, Emily (Elizabeth Banks), at home to go to New York and work for the Bill Clinton campaign.
While there, he meets another campaign worker, April (Isla Fisher), who isn’t there to support Clinton, but simply views it as a job. Will finds her candor refreshing and they become friends, although it’s clear right away that both of them might want more.
Also, before Will left home, Emily gave him a package that she wanted him to return to an old college friend named Summer (Rachel Weisz). She is also extremely attractive, although she is dating her professor (Kevin Kline, who steals several scenes in the film). Each of these women will play a major role in Will’s life over the next few years. The names of the women have been changed (as well as parts of the story, Will says) to make it more challenging for Maya to guess the identity of her mother.
I found the movie to be very entertaining thanks mostly to its great cast. The writing is pretty good too, and the script creates believable characters and doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence. Sure, the premise is kind of a gimmick, but it pays off both because it keeps us guessing and because it reminds us how unpredictable life is.
Sure, there are a few parts that are predictable. Members of the audience might guess the identity of Maya’s mother before it’s time. But that really doesn’t matter. It’s best to just sit back and enjoy where the film is going instead of trying to beat it there. I will say, though, that there is a part in the movie where a character talks about a gift she once received. The story is supposed to reveal something about the character, and it does, but it is done in a way that makes the audience realize that the script wants us to forget about the story when the scene is over so that we can be surprised when it plays an important part later in the film.
Also, the 11-year-old Breslin seems a bit old to not at least have some idea of where babies come from. The role might have been more appropriately played by an actor a couple of years younger, but I suppose she wouldn’t be learning about such mature subjects at school if she were younger. Either way, I’m nitpicking. Breslin, an Oscar nominee last year for “Little Miss Sunshine,” is the perfect choice for the role and brings her usual spark and intelligence to the character.
The other females in the movie are all superb. Banks is very winning as Emily and I’d love to see this movie make her the star she deserves to be. Most people know her from “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Weisz, who won an Oscar two years ago for “The Constant Gardener,” but is known to most people for the “Mummy” movies, is also incredibly appealing and warm. But I think Fisher (“Wedding Crashers”) is the most fun to watch. But I, like Will, would have a very hard time choosing between these unbelievable women.
I also have to say that I didn’t used to expect anything from Reynolds, but the guy is really starting to grow on me. He really could be the next great Everyman, the guy who we all project ourselves onto when we see him in the movies. For years, he starred in idiotic comedies like “National Lampoons Van Wilder,” “Just Friends,” and “Waiting” (which I admit, had a couple of laughs in it, no thanks to Dane Cook). But after last year’s “The Nines,” I’m reevaluating my opinion of him.
Sorry I’m so late on this one – it was released on Valentine’s Day. It’s probably the best 2008 movie currently in the box office top 10, but it’s sinking fast. But there’s still time to see it if you hurry. For some unknown reason, the critically reviled “Fool’s Gold” seems to be doing much better with what I suspect is a date crowd. So go see “Definitely, Maybe” and show Hollywood that you expect more from romantic comedies.
“Definitely, Maybe” is rated PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned.