The best romantic comedy so far this year is Definitely, Maybe by a winning mile. By combining likeable characters with a reasonably tricky storyline, nobody’s going to feel cheated or nauseous by the time the end credits roll.
Ryan Reynolds plays Will Hayes, a 30-something professional on the eve of signing his divorce papers. His ten-year-old daughter Maya (Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin) is dead keen to find out how her mum and dad met. To explain the complex situation, Will tells her about the three women in his life (Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher and Rachel Weisz), changing the names and letting Maya guess which one is her mother.
Ryan Reynolds has never really impressed in the past; always ending up too smarmy or sarcastic to be endearing. But here he succeeds. His Will is slightly uncool. After first meeting him working on Bill Clinton’s campaign back in 1992, we watch as his youthful optimism takes a gradual slide. Sixteen years later, we find him a bit more world-weary and sharing some sparkling chemistry with his daughter.
It is slightly annoying how Will seems to find it so easy to move swiftly between such attractive women. The characters do tend to come off as opportunists; if one doesn’t work out, they’re on to the next one.
But unlike P.S. I Love You, which overdid the manipulative schmaltz with sugary excess, Definitely, Maybe doesn’t provide too many eye-rolling moments and never gets too touchy-feely or vomit-inducing. The only thing laid on a bit thick is the cuteness of daughter Maya. It only took a few tears from this great young actress to get a cinema of hankees out. But the film never lingers, and aside from running about ten minutes too long, keeps the pace up and the locations ticking over.
Most clever of all is how the film guides our emotions so that, whilst we want certain things to happen and characters to succeed, there is still the possibility to be surprised by the outcome. In true rom-com fashion, things wrap up in a satisfying manner, but not quite in the way that we were expecting. It’s not hard, in hindsight, to see which of the three women is painted in the best light, but this doesn’t tarnish the otherwise engaging journey.
The surprisingly melancholic theme seems to be that romantic love can provide happiness and joy, but can equally lead to heartache or loneliness, and that contentment is derived from the way we handle that contradiction. Hence the overriding impression one gets from Definitely, Maybe is that the film functions as a mature and thoughtful entry in the romantic comedy canon.