Definitely, Maybe

Definitely, Maybe


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Not many romantic comedies start with a divorce. Especially one involving a child. Political consultant Will Hayes' happy home has already disintegrated, probably beyond repair, and now he's just trying to do the right things and make sure it stays amicable, make sure his little girl is okay. Young Maya doesn't feel okay. She's struggling to find a way of understanding what happened to her parents' dream. So she bullies her father into telling her the story of his past relationships. He agrees on one condition - that he'll change the names, so she won't find out which of the three important women in his life is her mother until the end.

It's a strong premise for an essentially lightweight film, but Definitely, Maybe handles it well. The pacing is excellent throughout and the three stories intermingle to keep the viewer guessing (though the very end of the film won't come as a surprise to anyone). It's lifted above the usual genre fare by an intelligent, thorough script which properly substantiates every character and gives us plenty of background detail - we see them not only in the context of their relationships, but in their day-to-day lives. Will's everyday life starts out with him working for Bill Clinton's election campaign and there's a lot of political humour in here too - none of it deep, but plenty of it entertaining.

Copy picture

Will's first love is Emily (Elizabeth Banks), his college sweetheart, the weakest of the three female characters but nevertheless effective, always more complicated than he expects. The second is Summer, played by a simmering Rachel Weisz, stylish and aggressive and almost certainly too much for him. The third is April, a playful Isla Fisher, somebody whose life always seems to be going in a different direction. Unfortunately, having presented us with these three attractive, capable women, the story utterly fails to explain why they would fall for Will, who is unfailingly bland - but that's par for the course in a story like this and is rendered less problematic when we remember that we're examining him largely through the eyes of a child (the capable though sometimes mawkish Abigail Breslin) for whose sake he may be sanitising a few things - when he remembers to.

The film's biggest problem is, perhaps, that it's so centered on Will's vision of the world that events conspire to fit in with his expectations and beliefs rather more than seems appropriate. Everybody has to be hip and upwardly mobile yet curiously traditional at the same time - there's no room for Summer's professional life to eclipse Will's (even temporarily), or for April to find satisfaction working in a bookshop. If a woman does something out of the ordinary, it's really because of her feelings for a man. Sometimes this gets in the way of natural character development, and character is what the whole atmosphere of the film depends on. That said, there are some excellent character moments here, such as Kevin Kline's turn as an aging alcoholic writer with a fondness for women less than half his age.

Definitely, Maybe isn't as sophisticated a film as it likes to think, but it does the basics very well indeed. It never patronises its audience and it really delivers on the emotional front. If you're the sort of person who cries easily at films, make sure you have a whole box of tissues with you, but be assured that you'll come out smiling.

Reviewed on: 06 Feb 2008
Share this with others on...
Definitely, Maybe packshot
A doting father discusses his relationship history with the child whose mother he's about to divorce.
Amazon link

Director: Adam Brooks

Writer: Adam Brooks

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Rachel Weisz, Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Kline

Year: 2008

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK


Search database:

If you like this, try:

Kissing Jessica Stein
You've Got Mail