Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic
Throughout my screening of Definitely, Maybe, one word kept popping up in my head: “adult.” It’s not too often that a reviewer gets to use that word when describing a romantic comedy, but it certainly applies here. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems as though this genre has been getting steadily better over the last few years. While most rom-coms still appeal to a predominantly female audience, the writers seem to be aiming at a smarter and more sophisticated demographic these days. This really holds true in Definitely, Maybe. Ryan Reynolds (Blade: Trinity, The Nines) plays Will Hayes, a political consultant who is asked by his young daughter to tell him the story of how he came to marry her mother. It’s a touchy story, because to tell it he must go through all of the failed relationships he had along the way. In order to keep her (and the audience) guessing as to whom eventually captured his heart, he changes the names of all the women. At first I felt this “framing” device was a bit tacky but it grew on me, mostly because the daughter is played by Abigail Breslin who, despite her age, comes across as witty and much wiser than her years. One can actually see her being able to digest everything that her dad tells her.
Part of the reason why she wants to know all of this is that her parents have been separated for a while now and are about to get divorced. She’s hoping that as Reynolds recounts his story, he will begin to feel the way he once felt about her mother. The story as it turns out goes back to 1991, when he was working on Clinton’s presidential campaign. Living with his high school sweetheart, Emily (Elizabeth Banks) in Madison, Wisconsin, he’s forced to head to New York City for the job. She’s worried that New York will change him but he insists that the move is just temporary and that nothing will change. Of course once he spends some time in the big city, it’s obvious that the move may not be so temporary after all. At first he finds himself doing the important tasks of making copies and making sure the bathroom has enough toilet paper. But soon enough he’s making calls to contributors and impressing the party bosses. He also meets April (Isla Fisher) a fellow-coworker who’s only there for the twelve bucks an hour; she couldn’t care less about Bill Clinton. This both annoys and intrigues him. April is a character that will play a big part throughout Will’s story.
Politics plays a big part in the film as well, and this isn’t by accident. Once again the word “adult” pops into my mind. It’s rare that a character in a romantic comedy has an occupation that’s actually interesting. Every character in Definitely, Maybe not only has a job of interest but a depth that makes them unique and three-dimensional; they aren’t the usual stereotypes that we see all too often in “lighter” fare. How often can you say that you’d enjoy having a real conversation with a character in a romantic comedy? Will Hayes is that kind of person. His interests go beyond just having a good time and getting laid. I was reminded of Good Luck Chuck, a film I loathed in which another good looking guy and his annoying sidekick constantly talked trash about women while supposedly being upwardly mobile doctors. We couldn’t believe for a minute that these two dopes were really professionals. In contrast, Reynolds and his colleagues come across as serious about what they do; they have a purpose in life, even as they try to find true love.
The world of politics and political campaigns not only serves as a timeline for events in Will’s life but to also show that even the President was having love troubles himself. The appearance of Gennifer Flowers on televisions in Clinton’s campaign headquarters, as well as the Monica Lewinsky saga featuring Clinton’s famous, “That depends what the definition of “is” is…” statement serve as smart comedic touches. However, despite the politics it’s not a political film; these moments only set the stage for the story of Will and the women in his life.
One of those women is played by the enchanting Rachel Weisz. Weisz plays Summer Hartley, an old friend of Hayes Wisconsin girlfriend Emily, and when we first see her she’s involved with a famous writer named Hampton Roth (Kevin Kline), “Are you her father”? Will asks, “Yeah that’s right, I’m her daddy”, responds Roth. Most films of this kind would push these characters to the periphery, but Definitely, Maybe makes them play a much more vital part in Will’s life. Kline, in just a few scenes, turns Roth into a fascinating and unique guy and this resonates throughout the film.
As Hayes’ story plays out, his daughter picks up on certain things that give her a clue as to which character might be here mother. The film itself however is in no rush to reveal its secrets, and writer/director Adam Brooks doesn’t find the need to throw in any contrived plot lines or unnecessary characters to propel his film forward. Instead, we simply find ourselves deeply involved in Will’s life, whatever the outcome may be. Definitely, Maybe is a film that realizes it doesn’t have to abandon its brain in order to find its heart.