V-Day Movie Shoots a Quiver of Arrows

Maui Time | February 12, 2008
For a Valentine's Day romantic comedy Definitely, Maybe hits all the right notes of commitment, honesty and maturity that go into a young father's explanation to his daughter about the women he dated before she was conceived. Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds plays Gen X politico upstart turned advertising executive Will Hayes whose bumbling '90s era dating life forms the story’s backbone. Will's precocious daughter Maya is perfectly played by Abigail Breslin, but it's Aussie actress Isla Fisher who keeps the romantic tension bubbling.

Will is in the midst of a divorce with Emily (Elizabeth Banks) just as their curious 10-year-old daughter is grasping to understand adult relationships. Sex education classes at Maya's Manhattan school have her asking questions that burn her dad's ears. It's in this pressurized atmosphere that Maya commands her dad to spill the beans on his sordid past for an epic bedtime story. Will concedes, but changes the names to throw Maya off the scent of which liaison became her mom. It's a wobbly narrative device at best, but good enough to validate the film's flashback-forward-motion.

At college in Madison, Wisconsin in 1992 Will preens in a mirror where he fancies himself worthy of presidential status. The brief bit speaks volumes about how Will sees himself. He's off to New York City for a two-month stint working for Bill Clinton's campaign, and leaves behind his girlfriend Emily (Elizabeth Banks), that his gnarly roommate has threatened to bed while he's away. New York's intoxicating effect eclipses Will's toilet paper gathering job at the Clinton headquarters where he meets April (Isla Fisher), a determinedly apolitical spirit destined to become Will's platonic soul mate, if not actual love interest.

Writer/director Adam Brooks (Wimbledon) baits the story with a diary sent from Emily, that Will is dispatched to deliver to Emily's ex-girlfriend Summer (Rachel Weisz), now residing in Manhattan as an ambitious journalism student. Naturally, Will can't resist reading the journal, which is filled with reflections on Emily's and Summer's lesbian encounters. All the better to fire Will's subconscious when he goes to deliver the manuscript only to discover Summer's older college professor/political analyst/lover (Kevin Kline) holding court in her apartment with a cocktail in hand. Kline's uncredited role adds several layers of meaning that resonate across the arc of the story. Here is an unquestionably charming and intelligent codger living out his existence on the stomachs of his nubile students with a drink in one hand and a book in the other. It's a glancing subplot that speaks indirectly to the Clinton era, and provides a bottom-line perspective on politics from a member of the intelligentsia who views American democracy with the jaundiced eye it deserves.

So it's in this heady sexually and politically charged landscape that Will and Summer strike up a picture-perfect romance that allows the movie to momentarily open up as a full on romance picture before sliding down a series of trap doors that coincide with Bill Clinton's fall from grace.

The significant thing about the characters is that we recognize and empathize with them in a transparent way because Adam Brooks drops so many great clues -- there's a certain lost book of April's that strikes a dominant chord. These are people that desire love with a passion that makes them attractive, not just as pretty people -- which all of these actors clearly are -- but as versions of folks we know or have known. The ever-capable Rachel Weisz seems pleased to play a departure from her trademark dramatic fare, and Summer introduces Will to an ethical question in a way that shows fiber beneath the fur. However, it's Isla Fisher who rightfully connects the film's shifting tone with a comic timing that pulses. The camera loves Ms. Fisher, and her romantic sensibilities are spot-on for their combination of shyness and eagerness. For her part, Abigail Breslin is effortless, and a welcome replacement to the Dakota Fanning era.

Definitely, Maybe is a multi-layered romantic movie that builds from four crosscurrent female directions. Emily, Summer, April, and Maya are forces of nature that bewitch a guy with the world on a string, except that he doesn't know what he has, much less what to do with it. Will needs the help that he gets from Maya to prioritize his romantic focus, and it says a lot about Maya's character that she is so able to do so. And yes, your girlfriend, wife, lover, mother, or friend will cry more than once.

Rated PG-13, 100 mins. (B)

Maui Time

Maui Time Weekly provides insightful analysis and in depth reporting. We believe some issues are so important they require thoughtful consideration. We are not a “paper of record”—a daily journal of government meetings, ribbon-cuttings and corporate announcements. We decide what’s...
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