A film review by Craig J. Koban
2008, PG-13, 115 mins.
2008, PG-13, 115 mins.
Ryan Reynolds: Will / Isla Fisher: April / Derek Luke: Russell / Abigail Breslin: Maya / Elizabeth Banks: Emily / Rachel Weisz: Summer / Kevin Kline: Hampton
Written and directed by Adam Brooks
trudging through an endless number of dry, regurgitated, routine, and
formulaic romantic comedies as of late, I found Adam Brooks’ DEFINITELY, MAYBE
a real surprise as it injects some much needed life into this
increasingly lethargic genre. In
terms of its approach to the material, the film is far more ambitious
than recent witless dramadies (ahem…27 DRESSES), especially when it
comes to its willingness to be bold, different, and to tell a love story
in unconventional ways.
MAYBE traverse along familiar territory, to be sure: We have plucky,
spirited – yet flawed and likeable – characters that have obligatory
“meet cutes”, fall in and out of love, and grow to appreciate life
lessons involving relationships and commitment. That is all here in abundance, but what Brooks does with
it is noticeably more sly and ingenious: Instead of the film – as most
dramadies do – beginning with its main character meeting the love of his
life and trying to win her over in the end, DEFINITELY, MAYBE starts in
exact opposite manner. It
begins on a depressing note, showing a man who has just been
served his divorce papers, and then the rest of the film is told like a
murder mystery. He tells his
young daughter a bedtime story of three specific woman that were
important in his life over the years, altering slight facts in the
The daughter – and the audience – is then forced to sift
through all of the details to discover which of the three is the man’s
It’s a really intriguing method to write a script. By framing most of the film as a recollection of one wounded man’s memories of his past flames, it garners our instant intrigue in the material and involves us in the story. What’s so compelling here is that DEFINITELY, MAYBE does not concern itself with a "love conquers all" ideology, nor is it squeaky clean with its characters and interplay. The film is more thoughtful and introspective and does a thankless job on commenting on how instant, true love is so hard to come by and that complicated love seems more realistic in life. In a day and age when innumerable romantic dramadies seem so preordained in their stories, DEFINITELY, MAYBE soars higher in the way it outguesses the audience, which is to its ultimate merit.
more refreshing is the fact that it is told ostensibly from a male
perspective, which I think is harder to nail correctly for these types of
woman-centric films. Usually,
the men that populate them are seen as odd
personas of contradictions. Other comedies from the male perspective (even good ones like
and THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN) most of the male characters are
chauvinistic pigs that see woman as sex objects first and then gravitate
towards viewing them in a more decent light.
In DEFINITELY, MAYBE the main male character is shown as being much
more complicated and inwardly flawed.
His emotional arc is also more substantial: he grows as a person and learns how love inevitably changes a person,
sometimes for the worse, more often – and indirectly – for the better.
It’s rare to see films like this approach its men with such
sincerity and compassion, not to mention that the underlining story is
more filled with a melancholic sadness and disappointment than uplifting
the film begins we meet Will Haynes (Ryan Reynolds, finally shaking off
that annoying level of self-congratulatory smugness that has permeated his
past comic performances) as he gets served with his divorce papers.
At this point we don’t know his wife.
He then picks up his daughter at school, Maya (played with a
unparalleled level of innate cuteness, droll wit, and wide-eyed adorability
by the talented Abigail Breslin). As
the two prepare for their evening together at home, Maya demands that her
dad tell her a bedtime story. Begrudgingly,
Will agrees, but he is hesitant to give into his daughter’s wishes of
telling her how he met her mother and how they fell in love.
Will is a good sport (all things considering), but he has put forth
certain rules, such as the fact that names of people will be changed along
with other minor details. More crucially, his “story” will not simply involve
Maya’s mother, but three women, which forces Maya – and us – to put
all of the clues together to discover which of the women is the real
ex-wife. Maya is
distraught about her dad’s emotional state with the impending divorce,
but she is a beacon of hope, thinking that this bedtime story will help
her father perhaps overcome his marital problems and get back together
with his soon-to-be ex-wife.
first woman of the story is Emily (the luminous and gorgeous Elizabeth
Banks, whose smile – like Jennifer Garner’s – could take any man's pain
away). She is Will’s
college sweetheart that he leaves behind in 1992 so he can trek to The Big
Apple to work as a campaign worker for, yes, Bill Clinton in his bid for
the White House. Through
Emily he eventually hooks up with Summer (Rachel Weisz, who finally has
her assets used to good effect in a comedy), who used to not only be a
past friend of Emily’s, but her ex-experimental lover.
At the time Summer is dating her thesis advisor and famous author,
Hampton Roth (played in a pitch perfectly droll and sarcastic performance
by Kevin Kline). And last,
Will hooks up with a fellow Clinton co-worker, April (the underrated Isla
Fisher, who is one of those rare, Meg Ryan-esque actresses that can
effectively balance cuteness, below the radar sex appeal, and swift comic
timing). As the story
progresses we see Will go back and forth between the women over the years,
not to mention that less consequential woman show up here and there,
making it even more difficult for Maya to piece together which woman is
really her mother.
a great mystery, DEFINITELY, MAYBE does an incredibly assured job dropping
hints here and there and never easily allows Maya and viewers to
ascertain her real mother’s identity. Rarely does the film ring with a
sanctimonious predictability; even when May’s mother is finally
revealed, it’s never clear how this film will really end.
Will the man live a life of solitude, or will he rekindle a love
with one of the two remaining women of the story?
Even late in the film, as it was a approaching a conclusion, it was
tricky to see where it was heading. And
when it does end, it’s not one of those neat, convenient ends with
resounding closure and false hope.
Will has lost the love of his life, but does not regain it back, per se,
as well. Instead, he makes
the realization that love can be a destabilizing and thorny influence in
one’s life and that he have to work diligently at it to make it succeed.
Again, it’s that plausible emotional spectrum in the film that
allows for DEFINITELY, MAYBE to be more atypically engaging and real that
these types of films usually allow for.