Definitely, Maybe

Rating:

Definitely, Maybe, Why Not?

Main Cast:   Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin

Director:  Adam Brooks

I suspect that most kids eventually ask about how their parents met. I know I did, and both my kids did.   Some parents treasure this moment as they regale their children with Another Great Story of Youth.   Other parents may experience painful memories.  There is probably a third group who don’t have a particularly interesting story.  I thought the story of my parents’ first date hilarious as a kid and their proposal romantic as a teenager. I didn’t see complications and shades of gray like I do now.

In Definitely, Maybe a young girl learns that even parents don’t always get things right and love is a complicated business.

Will (Ryan Reynolds) is divorcing as we enter the story. After a brief narration explaining his background and situation, we get right to the heart of the film. Daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) has unexpectedly learned just enough sex ed in school to start asking questions about her parents.   Maya wants to know how they met and got married and she wants the whole story rather than the “it’s complicated” line she’s been given.

With her new education, Maya feels ready for “complicated” and pushes for the whole story. Dad reluctantly gives in – with a few conditions. He gets to change names and a few other things so the story becomes a mystery. Since Maya wants to know all about her father and his girlfriends, she can figure out which of the three women who played major roles in his past became his wife and her mother. The film then goes to flashback with the young Will setting out on his adult life where he will meet the women who shape his future.

Definitely Maybe’s premise is more than a little convoluted.  Putting a young girl through this mystery seems a mean game when she only wants to know how her now divorcing parents met and she came to be. But as we learn about Will’s past, we also understand that “complicated” may just be the best explanation. A simple narrative would make little sense to a child who doesn’t understand the delicate balance of feelings, timing and circumstance that lead to and sustain relationships. By creating a fable, Will takes the edge off the harsher realities and makes Maya a part of the story, rather than a stranger just waiting to see how she fits in.

Past the initial conceit, the story’s methodology becomes very endearing. Will loves Maya  and wants her to learn things for herself that she wouldn’t understand if he simply told her.   Reynolds and Breslin don’t have a lot of screen time together since the film is mostly flashback, but they connect when together with a father/daughter chemistry that doesn’t feel forced or sappy.

Ryan Reynolds is a good looking guy, but he isn’t a pretty boy. His fabled chiseled abs are not on display here, and he must rely on more than his appearance to make Definitely, Maybe work.

He succeeds nicely. His Will is something of an everyman, with dreams that didn’t pan out, a job he sort of fell into and a marriage that didn’t turn out the way he had hoped. As he begins reminiscing, Will becomes as involved as Maya in the story. As an older, hopefully wiser, adult, he begins seeing things differently than he did in his youth. Reynolds is earnest, but can pull off a certain amount of witty banter.

Writer/director Adam Brooks knows when to put the plug on the one-liners and take things down a notch. Definitely, Maybe isn’t a Jim Carrey movie – it’s more romance than straight comedy.   Verbal and situational comedy are used sparingly but effectively.  Audiences will like Will and because of the storytelling style, we understand some of his mistakes as he muddles his way from young idealist to father and storyteller. Reynolds proves he can play at least a minimally developed character well — romantic comedy is a good genre for him.

Abigail Breslin continues showing that she’s more than just a cute little girl.  She isn’t even the prettiest little girl that has ever lived – but she’s adorable in an authentic way.  Breslin looks like a child who isn’t a famous actress, one who laughs and hurts and loves her parents. She’s an excellent young actress and I hope she continues to take small roles in small films lest she fall into the overexposed trap of  child star.  Her Maya is excellent, a girl who not only wants information because she learned about intercourse, but also because she needs help understanding her parents’ divorce.

Definitely, Maybe’s score is also noteworthy, hitting the right notes without being overbearing or telegraphing every moment of the film. There are a few hit songs to establish a setting in early 1990s, and every song works well. The score itself is understated and pretty, it simply fits the tone of the film.

One word of caution – politics. Definitely, Maybe is not a political movie, but quite a bit of it takes place in the early 1990s and centers on Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign.   Will is most certainly a Democrat.   There is no preaching, in fact there are some pretty funny jokes relating to how things actually panned out as the young idealists talk about the future. But if all things Democrat turn you off, this may not be a good choice for you.

Under most circumstances, romantic comedies and I have a rocky relationship at best. I very often hate the underlying messages of love at first sight or happily ever after with no effort or people having only one true soul mate without whom they are destined to live in solitary misery.

Definitely, Maybe avoids my pet peeves while remaining romantic and funny – and even a little touching. For anyone who loves stories of how people met — this is one story that won’t disappoint.   The plot is certainly complicated, but that’s so is real life.   The license taken to move this plot into film makes it somewhat unrealistic, but Definitely, Maybe works as a romantic fairly tale.

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