Movie Review: Bien sûr, peut-être
By Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
Despite one of the more contrived framing devices outside an actual frame shop, "Definitely, Maybe" keeps you interested in its characters and isn't afraid of complicating your sympathies a little. In these dog-day months for romantic comedy, that means a lot.
Writer-director Adam Brooks had a hand in the "Bridget Jones" sequel, co-wrote "Wimbledon" and a while ago came up with "French Kiss."
Brooks' latest is his best.
His direction, workmanlike but relaxed, plays into the strengths of his cast, particularly the women. The women take turns bailing out the male lead, in fact. This isn't the first time, and it won't be the last.
Ryan Reynolds stars as Will Hayes, a Manhattan advertising exec examining the dreamy flotsam of his romantic life. It's set up as the world's most elaborate bedtime story. On the verge of a divorce, Will shares custody of his preternaturally well-adjusted 10-year-old daughter, Maya (Abigail Breslin).
The girl, a fount of relationship wisdom, has just had her first sex-education class at school, provoking all sorts of questions about Dad's earlier days. Who were his true loves? How did he and Maya's mother, unidentified in "Definitely, Maybe" until late in the game, meet and marry and come to grief? "I want to know," Maya says, plaintively.
The film unspools as a flashback beginning in 1992, interrupted by Maya's color commentary.
This story structure is dubious at best and too cute by half, and while straight women and gay men might disagree, I find Reynolds' Will too cute by half as well. (His idea of low-key charm is my idea of smirky self-regard.) Given these issues, it's miraculous the film works at all. But it does; it gets better and richer as it goes. Brooks doesn't follow most of the predictable templates, and he's both wry and clear-eyed about the early Clinton years. We get to know Will as a young, idealistic Democrat (there goes half the audience right there) who leaves his college sweetheart (Elizabeth Banks) back in Madison so he can join the Arkansas governor's campaign in New York City. Brooks remembers what it's like to be young, fervent and on the loose. As Will and his fellow campaign workers discuss the president-to-be ("He gets women," says one, pre-Monica Lewinsky), the atmosphere is heady, a little delusional - very much in period.
Will's lovers include Isla Fisher, who plays an office worker who doesn't give a rip about politics. Rachel Weisz plays an opportunistic, charismatic journalist living with her former thesis adviser (a gruff and lovely turn by Kevin Kline), but not for long. When these characters arrive on the scene, the film comes to life.
Like so many makers of romantic comedy before him, Brooks plants one foot in Hollywood (the stuff with the kid) and the other on planet Earth (the scenes with Weisz and Kline, among others, which are unusually well-acted).
Ryan's contribution is one of affable skill in search of more distinctive qualities. Yet you stick with the film; there's just enough truth and wit amid the contrivances to reward your attention. We learn something from every relationship, the film says.
And sometimes we're asked to reassess the lessons.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, including some frank dialogue, language and smoking).
Running time: 1:45
Starring: 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; photographed by Florian Ballhaus; edited by Peter Teschner; music by Clint Mansell; production design by Stephanie Carroll; produced by Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner. A Universal Pictures release.