Ryan Reynolds as Will Hayes
Abigail Breslin as Maya Hayes
Isla Fisher as April
Rachel Weisz as Summer Hartley
Elizabeth Banks as Emily
Kevin Kline as Hampton Roth
Marc Bonan as Kevin
Kevin Corrigan as Simon
Adam Ferrara as Gareth
Alexie Gilmore as Olivia
Directed by Adam Brooks
Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) is about to get divorced from his wife but his young daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) wants to know the story of how Will met her mother. To make things more interesting, Will tells his daughter about three women he knew in the early ’90s when he first arrived in New York to work on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, letting her figure out which woman he would eventually marry.
England’s Working Title Films has created quite a niche for themselves in the realms of the romantic with such classics as “Bridget Jones” and “Love, Actually,” though this vehicle for actor Ryan Reynolds will certainly be compared more to Hugh Grant’s “About a Boy” in that it’s a romantic relationship film told from a male point-of-view centered around the relationship woes of a lovable schmuck who just can’t make things work out.
Most of Working Title’s previous films have been set in England, but they moved this one to Manhattan, the most common and overused setting for romantic comedies. This one is different in that it’s set in a specific period of time, the early ’90s, using Clinton’s run for President as a plot device, quite effectively and humorously actually, which helps set it apart from the normal tactic by filmmakers to show all of the usual places when filming in the city.
Written and directed by Adam Brooks, writer of “Wimbledon” and the “Bridget Jones” sequel, the movie is mostly told in flashback after introducing Will and his suitably precocious daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) who wants to know how he met her mother so she can offer her 12-year-old advice about what he did wrong. Surprisingly, he appeases her, but instead of giving her the straight story, he tells a convoluted story about three of his former loves, his college sweetheart and two women he met when he first arrived in New York, allowing Maya to deduce which women he would end up.
As much as I wanted and tried to enjoy the movie for its attempts to tread new romantic comedy ground, even if it’s just capturing the feel of New York City better than the many other rom-coms set here. The problematic premise never justifies why we would want to hear the story of how Will met a woman who is now divorcing him, since there’s very little romance in that. Instead, you have to try to guess which woman he ends up with, something that’s not particularly hard to suss, even with all of the red herrings the movie tries throwing your way. It’s never quite clear why Maya has to hear this story in the first place or why she knows so little about the mother who’s been around most of her young life, and even the perplexing title seems to be a throwaway, taken from an inconsequential scene that’s quickly forgotten.
“Definitely, Maybe” continues Ryan Reynolds’ forward progress as a romantic leading actor after the taste he got for it in 2006’s “Just Friends,” but he proves he’s up there with John Cusack and Hugh Grant in terms of being able to win the audience over with his abundant charm. The casting is only strange in that his character barely seems to age, even though at least 15 years pass from the time Will arrives in New York to when he’s telling Maya his story. It’s odd to see so many changes in the characters’ life without him looking very different. (Surely, having Maya as a daughter would have had him pulling out most of his hair by the opening of the film.)
This time around, Reynolds has a quartet of leading ladies to work his charms on, and they all make decent foils, even if Elizabeth Banks gets the least screen time as his college sweetheart. On the other hand, Isla Fischer from “Wedding Crashers” is close to perfection as the outspoken downtown New York liberal that every New York guy has met and fallen for, so their scenes together are the film’s best moments, even if it takes Will longer than us to figure out that she likes him. Reynolds’ scenes with Rachel Weisz as an intelligent political journalist who helps Will with his own political career as a speech writer are equally enjoyable, but these great flashback scenes are continuously interrupted by Abigail Breslin’s annoying cutesy remarks as her attempts at attaining new levels of adorable overdrive get progressively worse over the course of the story.
Attempting to call this a comedy would be deceiving since it’s not that funny beyond Reynolds’ normally likeable wit, which is easily shown up when Kevin Kline enters the picture with a small role as an older political writer. Sure, there are more than a few chuckles, mostly revolving around Will’s involvement with the campaign of one Bill Clinton, but getting laughs is not the film’s primary focus, being more of a relationship drama about Will’s quest for love, one that takes a surprisingly downer turn before resolving things in the corniest Hollywood ending possible.
The Bottom Line:
Sadly, what starts out as an interesting tale of one man’s search for love turns into another soppy and corny Hollywood love story that serves very little overall purpose. There are certainly enough enjoyable moments that it’s not a complete waste of time–there’s so much to like in the pairing of Reynolds with his three lovely leading ladies–but it goes so far out of its way to wear out its welcome, mainly due to Breslin’s presence, that by the last 20 minutes, you just won’t care anymore. And if Brooks’ attempts to replicate the magic of “About a Boy” weren’t obvious by the end credits, the Badly Drawn Boy song will drive the point home.