"I like it...it's like a love story mystery!"
- Maya Hayes
I have to admit, I think I had this Ryan Reynolds guy pegged all wrong. I mean, I've always enjoyed him well enough, but my initial interest was piqued more by his chest and stomach than his acting (I treat his Men's Health covers like million dollar bills). He's always likeable, but I never really noticed too much beneath the surface. But with recent efforts like The Nines and Chaos Theory, I have to give the guy credit. He's making more inspired choices and challenging himself to grow as an actor in interesting films, getting further away from Van Wilder with each effort. (I don't care what you say, I still love Waiting...).
And while I wouldn't qualify Definitely, Maybe as anything challenging, it is still pretty darn entertaining. It's a self-aware romantic comedy, one that is actually funny and moving. Sure, it's got a gimmick and it's predictable in spots, but it also keeps you laughing, crying and guessing. Reynolds is Will Hayes, who is served divorce papers when the film begins. That night, daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) asks him to tell her the real story about how he met her mother: "Everything with you is so complicated. I bet that if you just told me the story, you'd realize that's it's not complicated at all, that you just...love her."
Dad finally relents, but decides to challenge his daughter. He'll tell her the tale, "But I'm not telling you who your mom is...you're just gonna have to figure it out for yourself. And I'm changing all the names and some of the facts." Seems Will had a few women in his life when the story rewinds to 1992, just as he graduates from the University of Wisconsin and heads to New York to work on the Clinton campaign. There's college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks), who is afraid his political aspirations will put distance between them; her old friend Summer (Rachel Weisz), now a budding journalist attached to a famous writer (Kevin Kline); and free spirit April (Isla Fisher), a copy girl he meets at the campaign headquarters. (Pardon my side note, but would someone please cast Fisher, Amy Adams and Rachel McAdams as sisters in some fabulous movie? How amazing would that be?!)
What follows is a story that starts in 1992 and heads toward present day as the women go in and out of Will's life. He provides some voiceover and Maya frequently interrupts the story for questions and commentary, giving the film a chance to playfully acknowledge and play with romantic comedy conventions: "Everyone knows that the girlfriend in the beginning of the story always gets dumped!" (It's kind of like what Scream did for slasher films...acknowledge yet have fun with genre clichés). You'll find yourself second-guessing things, and looking for clues that may or may not be there.
There's so much that this film does right: writer/director Adam Brooks knows the rom-com world well, having written Wimbledon, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Practical Magic. But don't let that slightly scary list frighten you...this film is far better than all of them. There's a great balance of love and laughter--Brooks knows when and how to hit your emotions. Just when you think things might get a tad too sappy, he injects well-written, well-executed dialogue that frequently had me smiling and actually laughing out loud ("What's a threesome?" asks Maya..."That's a game that adults play sometimes...when they're bored."), including my favorite wedding proposal scene ever.
Reynolds fits the role perfectly, and has a great understanding of comedic timing (more than he probably gets credit for...I loved his increasing irritability on the campaign staff). The character is more challenging than it might seem on the surface: Reynolds is asked to create believable chemistry with four female actors, and he succeeds with each one. He has memorable scenes (filled with fun flirting and real sparks) with each woman. But my favorite sparring comes between him and Breslin--the two Smart Alecs have a playful banter that never disappoints, including the aftermath of a sex education class at school.
The three romantic leads are all fantastic, each having their own unique quirks and stories. But I don't want to say too much about the actresses and their performances...although it becomes clear that you're probably supposed to be rooting for one character in particular (although what good does that do us, knowing that divorce is imminent?!), and one actress steals the spotlight. As the film unfolds, we realize (as one character notes) that when it comes to love, it may not be who, but when. It's that mystery--figuring out when the love will align--that makes this a special watch.
I'm a tough nut to crack with romantic comedies--the box cover brags that this film came from the makers of Notting Hill and Love Actually, which didn't get me very excited (in fact, I made a mental eye roll). But Definitely, Maybe is a refreshing entry with witty writing and performances. This is what romantic comedy should be: It's heartwarming and funny, and while it's predictable in spots, it's unpredictable enough to keep you guessing, a truly refreshing watch. "Sometimes, no matter how carefully you plan your playlist, there is no right track for what awaits you," Will notes as the film starts. As it relates to life and this movie, I couldn't have said it any better.
The film arrives in an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer. It's a very soft presentation that fits the film's tone. Colors may be a tad too rich in spots, and the lack of sharpness becomes more apparent in darker scenes, but it's still a good looking film.
You can opt for 5.1 surround in English, Spanish and French (as well as subtitles in each language). The track is pretty effective at putting you in a relaxing park, a frantic school, a busy campaign room or a noisy bar. It creeps up on you--so much so that I actually reached for my remote at one point to pause the film, thinking my phone was ringing (I realized my stupidity in time). It's subtle, which is just what it needs to be. The dialogue is always crisp and clear.
Leading the way is a full-length audio commentary with writer/director Adam Brooks and star Ryan Reynolds. It's not an incredibly interesting listen; there are brief pauses during their chat about various aspects of the film, making for a sometimes-boring track (I'm exaggerating, but very brief snippets reminded me of SNL's "Delicious Dish" skit). You get the sense that Reynolds is a pretty cool guy, but perhaps has a dry sense of humor and laid-back quality that doesn't translate as well in an audio track as it does in person. But he still has some cool stories and comments (love "bouquet of genitalia"!). I enjoyed their thoughts about the film's tone and humor: "Steve Martin said you want to reach the sort of boundaries of your comedy in the very first joke in the first minute," Brooks says of a funny song snafu on Will's phone. "I thought it was good, but the horrible thing is that I didn't make up that joke." Brooks also talks about the song selection (which I found effective), and later points out that this is one of the first films to get slapped with a smoking warning, which helped contribute to its PG-13 rating (a look at the box confirms this, an advisory I didn't know existed). It's also fun to hear the two talking about the cast: Reynolds notes that Fisher has a "mouth like a sailor", while Brooks talks about Kline's unique acting style and also praises the strong dialogue rhythm between Reynolds and Breslin. "It was like a romantic whodunit," says Reynolds of his attraction to the script. "It was a fresh take on a genre that I thought could use a tune-up."
Up next is a set of four deleted scenes (5:35), although one is like three scenes in one. I actually liked the cut material with Reynolds and Breslin and wish it was included, especially the short first scene (which made me smile).
Next is "Creating A Romance" (11:35), a set of interviews about the film with Brooks, executive producers Liza Chasin and Bobby Cohen, and all of the lead performers. It's not too in-depth but not too fluffy, making it a decent enough watch. Brooks talks about the story, noting how the Clinton presidency was a fitting parallel to Will's life. He also touches on casting, saying how important it was to create three different female leads that complemented each other, and noting that Reynolds has that relatable "everyman" quality. Fisher gets in the best quote: "I heard that Dane Cook was attached, and I'm a really big fan, so I wanted to work with him. And then he fell out and I was stuck with Ryan Reynolds," she says, her facial expression telling a different story. (This feature is sponsored by Volkswagen, whatever that means. Surprisingly, you don't have to watch a commercial!).
"The Changing Times of Definitely, Maybe" (5:03) is a continuation of the interviews, with a focus on the sets and costumes reflecting the period from 1992 to 2008. Costume designer Gary Jones and production designer Stephanie Carroll chime in along with the cast and crew. Says Brooks: "Like the city, (Will) cleans himself up. He loses a large part of the spark and heart that he started with. By telling the story, he finds a way to reclaim it." It's short and sweet, and when combined with the previous behind-the-scenes feature, it's an interesting-enough watch.
Rounding out the features are three trailers, including a catchy one for the upcoming theatrical release of Mamma Mia! (don't be embarrassed...you know you're gonna watch that one over and over).
This is what romantic comedy should be. With a witty script and performances, Definitely, Maybe will make you think, laugh and cry...or at least choke you up a little bit. And it does it in a fresh way. Sure it's got a gimmick and can be predicable in spots, but it's still unpredictable enough--a unique entry that stands out from a sea of indistinguishable genre films. If you'll pardon my awful word play, there's no maybe about it: You should definitely see this refreshing flick (go ahead, groan!). Highly Recommended.