Definitely, Maybe (Universal Pictures, PG-13)

film_def-maybe_sm.jpgRyan Reynolds has been seemingly on the verge of a breakthrough for several years, and that could finally happen with Definitely, Maybe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ryan Reynolds is one of those actors most audience members would say they’ve seen before, but probably couldn’t say where. Reynolds has a long list of credits, mostly low-budget comedy fare like Just Friends, National Lampoon’s Van Wilder and The In-Laws; he was also in a 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror. He’s been seemingly on the verge of a breakthrough for several years, and that could finally happen with Definitely, Maybe—a romantic dramedy in which Reynolds appears in virtually every scene. It’s a major role, and viewers will have to decide for themselves if Reynolds’ amiable, understated acting style holds their attention.

Since I’m a fan, I’m glad to see Reynolds doing something more substantial for a change. In this outing, he plays Will Hayes, a New York advertising exec (and soon to be divorced father) who tells the story of his complex romantic history to his young daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) when prompted to do so by Abigail’s flurry of questions following a sex-ed class at her school. The majority of the film consists of flashbacks, with Will changing the names of his past loves so Maya can try to guess which woman becomes her mom. It starts in Will’s college days in Madison, Wisc., in 1992, where his college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks, rapidly becoming one of today’s go-to gals when the part calls for a sensual but deceptively multi-faceted actress) is disappointed by Will’s plans to go to New York for a few months to work on the Bill Clinton presidential campaign.

There’s something oddly unsettling about this part of the plot, in light of the current election battle Hilary Clinton is facing, but I’d prefer not to waste space here discussing it. At the campaign office, Will meets the attractive but somewhat kooky April (Isla Fisher), a free spirit who intrigues him but keeps him more than a little off balance with her unpredictable views. Also on hand is Summer (Rachel Weisz), an aspiring journalist who was a schoolmate of Emily’s at one time, and now shares the bed of a wryly arrogant political analyst named Hampton Roth (Kevin Kline, in a surprising secondary role).

The film (written and directed by Adam Brooks) keeps things moving at a decent pace-each of the women comes and goes in Will’s life, and you’re deliberately kept guessing which one will become Maya’s mother, and which will ultimately capture Will’s heart. What the movie primarily has on its mind is the machinations of romantic entanglement-the unpredictable ways in which you can get involved with a certain person(s), but find a more substantial connection with someone else.

For the most part, Brooks avoids the easy clichés here. Each of the ladies is intelligent and appealing, while also believably flawed. Weisz is at her sexiest and most openly charming here…gone entirely is the sort of aristocratic Brit-style grace that puts her at some remove in past roles. Her dialogue with Reynolds throughout has snap and authenticity, and a montage scene that commences with her singing Sinatra’s "I’ve Got a Crush on You" to Reynolds when he inquires about her hidden theatrical yearnings, is a definite highlight. Banks is solid, as always. The big surprise is Fisher, who makes the deepest impression through varied scenes that paint a full portrait of a unique, often confused (and confusing) woman. Fisher totally inhabits the character of April, and a scene involving her attachment to the novel Jane Eyre is one of the few three-hankie moments here. Breslin shows again why she’s one of the finest younger actresses around.

But ultimately, it’s Ryan Reynolds who must carry this film, and his tendency to under emote, to hint at suppressed frustration and angst-y resignation rather than go for the broad dramatic stroke, is admirable, if a tad dry at times. There are plenty of laughs in the movie, and many poignant scenes as well. Any fan of Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan or movies like When Harry Met Sally should definitely, maybe enjoy this well-intentioned little sleeper. | Kevin Renick

http://www.definitelymaybemovie.com

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