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. Abigail Breslin perfectly plays Will’s precocious daughter Maya, 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 starting to grasp adult relationships. It’s in this pressurized atmosphere that Maya tells her dad to spill the beans on his sordid past. Will concedes, but changes all the names to throw Maya off the scent of which liaison became her mom.
At college in Madison, Wisconsin in 1992, Will preens in a mirror where he fancies himself worthy of presidential status. He’s off to New York City for a two-month stint working for Bill Clinton’s campaign, and leaves behind his girlfriend Emily, who 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.
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. These are people who want 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 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. But it’s Fisher who rightfully connects the film’s shifting tone with a comic timing that pulses. The camera loves her, and her romantic sensibilities are spot-on for their combination of shyness and eagerness. For her part, Abigail Breslin is an effortless, 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 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. MTW