Sunday, October 9, 2011

If It Hadn't Been For The Previews, Would This Be A Perfect Film? Definitely, Maybe.

The Good: Funny, Charming, Interesting characters
The Bad: Predictable
The Basics: Surprisingly smart, fun and funny, Definitely, Maybe appears on DVD as a surprise hit worth watching!

The formula for the Classic English - and therefore, American, as much of our culture is based upon our British roots - romance, as originally perfected by the novel Jane Eyre (reviewed here!) involves a protagonist who falls in love with one person, leaves them, meets a second person and through the relationship with that person comes to learn that person #1 was the right person for them after all. Definitely, Maybe takes that tried and true formula and pretty much runs with it, adding a third person into the mix and the complication that whomever the true love of the protagonist is, their marriage is virtually over. In this case, Will Hayes is finalizing his divorce.

Definitely, Maybe has its moments and is a surprisingly good romantic comedy, despite the idea of the guessing game that frames the essential "conflict" of the story wearing thin and being undone by some of the plot elements and threads that are laid within the movie. The narrative technique is interesting and there is a part of me that wonders if I would have liked the film more had I never seen any previews for it, but the pacing near the end still seems like it would have been problematic regardless.

Will Hayes is ending his marriage to his wife and his daughter, a girl who is a hopeless romantic, has just learned sex education in school. Maya begs Will to tell her the story of how she was conceived or the love story equivalent to it. Will, like most people, finds this to be a complicated story and begs Maya not to think that it will result in him falling back in love with her mother. So, changing all of the names, he begins to tell the story of his love life.

This begins, then, with Will leaving Wisconsin and his college sweetheart, Emily, to go work on the primary campaign for Bill Clinton. Separated for months and by such distances, Will begins to find success at politics, only to learn that Emily has had sex with the roommate Will left her behind with. Distraught, he begins a relationship with a reporter, Summer, who is attached to an aging and very pompous writer. When Summer sabotages another campaign Will is working on (simply by doing her job), Will finds himself in the company of April, a young woman he met while making copies during the Clinton campaign. As time goes by, April, Summer and Emily come back in and out of Will's life and he rises and falls professionally and tries to choose which of the three he wants to spend his life with.

Definitely, Maybe is certainly not lacking on the charm front. Indeed, this is one of the better romantic comedies in recent memory to actually possess something in the way of charm. The narrative technique works pretty well, with only a few interruptions to remind the viewer that the story is being told by Will to Maya. This instantly recalls The Princess Bride and the technique is used judiciously enough to justify its existence and make for a decent enough twist to an otherwise more or less straightforward romantic comedy.

In fact, if anything, the narrative technique lets slip the film's ultimate ending. Without revealing anything critical, because I don't think reviewers ought to ruin the story for those considering watching a movie, when one considers the level of detail with which one tells a story, we usually only put in the essential elements. In other words, when telling a story, we don't often include subplots or details and artifacts that are not essential to resolving the main thrust of the story.

I do know, however, that I would have liked Definitely, Maybe better had I not seen a preview because in the standard preview that was frequently shown (even on television), there is a moment from the last ten minutes of the movie that has a real emotional resonance that was somewhat gutted by the familiarity of it. This is not to say that Will's love for his daughter seems schmaltzy when he tells her good-bye after the night she stays over, but when it hit and felt familiar, I felt cheated. In other words, if one has the chance to see the movie without seeing the trailer, go for that.

As well, I cannot recall a movie in recent memory that I have seen where women were portrayed so well and actresses were given such great characters to play. Ryan Reynolds takes the lead as Will Hayes and he is good, decent in a way that some of his more banal and ridiculous romantic comedies have not allowed him to be, but the show is stolen by each of the four females he shares the screen with. Right off the bat, Abigail Breslin does well by playing Maya as a girl who emotes very clearly the hopes and dreams she has for the reconciliation between her father and mother. While she only brings it up in the beginning, throughout the entire film, Breslin infuses a sense - usually with her body language, the way she leans and stares at Reynolds' Will - that her character is hanging on every word with the hope that Will will remember what brought her to her mother in the first place.

The screen is then split between Elizabeth Banks as Emily, Rachel Weisz as Summer and Isla Fisher as April Hoffman. Elizabeth Banks has been suddenly popping up noticeably in movies I have seen in the last month or two and here she is delightfully serious as Emily. Banks has a great screwball sense to her that she has let loose or restrained in other films I've seen her in and in Definitely, Maybe, she actually plays Emily with a real dramatic sense and it works for her.

Conversely, Weisz tends to be very serious in roles I have seen her in before this and in this movie, she plays a great "straightman" to both Reynolds and Kevin Kline's pompous writer, Hampton Roth. Weisz, however, is given a chance to nail her comic timing as she tends to deliver the punchlines that the others set up.

It is Isla Fisher, though, who steals the movie. It turns out I have seen her in the unmemorable film adaptation of Scooby-Doo, though I have no memory of her in that. In Definitely, Maybe, she is spunky, energetic and hits all of her marks in a way that makes her instantly memorable.

On DVD, there are deleted scenes, none of which take anything away from the movie by their absence. However, I thought it was hilarious when - in one scene - Will swears only to be cut off by Maya with the fourth-wall breaking note that "One more makes it R!" As well, there is a commentary track that is decent enough and what one expects from a romantic comedy.

And perhaps the best thing about Definitely, Maybe is that it is both romantic and a comedy and it works well for both.

For other works with Abigail Bresslin, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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