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DEFINITELY, MAYBE (director/writer: Adam Brooks; cinematographer: Florian Ballhaus; editor: Peter Teschner; music: Clint Mansell; cast: Ryan Reynolds (Will Hayes), Isla Fisher (April), Derek Luke (Russell T. McCormack), Abigail Breslin (Maya Hayes), Elizabeth Banks (Emily), Rachel Weisz (Summer Hartley), Kevin Kline (Hampton Roth); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Tim Bevan/Eric Fellner; Universal Pictures; 2008)
“When it comes to recent romantic comedies, you could do much worse.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The cutesy title should give you a hint at how slick this one will turn out. But then again, when it comes to recent romantic comedies, you could do much worse. Writer-director Adam Brooks (“Almost You”) spins a knockoff from TV’s sitcom How I Met Your Mother, pausing only to freshen it up with an ounce more of sophistication and some cloying political nostalgia sure to displease Hillary on the current campaign trail (to show how the hero loses faith in politics the film revisits several of the Clinton scandals, including those with Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky).

Ryan Reynolds plays the jaded hunky nice-guy New York ad man Will Hayes, who picks up his sweet 10-year-old daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) from her Manhattan public school to learn she just had an unexpected first sex education class. Will is about to get a divorce and his daughter, now filled with questions about sex, wants the true story of how he met and married her mom. Will frames it as a bedtime-mystery tale, whereby he tells of his romances with three women but changes the names of two of them, leaves out some of the more detailed sexual things and leaves open the question of which one will eventually turn out to be Maya’s mom until the end. We have to guess if it will be his pretty blonde college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks), or the free spirit April (Isla Fisher), or Emily’s old friend, ambitious magazine reporter Summer (Rachel Weisz).

The flashback dates back to 1992 when the young and naive Will, a political idealist, a grad from the University of Wisconsin, still living in Madison, says goodbye to his upset college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks) and heads to New York City alone to work as an unpaid staffer for the next two months for the first presidential campaign of the former Arkansas governor Bill Clinton.

Will shares a room at the New Yorker Hotel with campaign coworker Russell (Derek Luke). He soon becomes a best-friend and confidante with the perky, cynical, apolitical copy girl, April Hoffman (Isla Fischer). She digs Kurt Cobain’s Nirvana and loves to reread “Jane Eyre” every year, and who takes the assignment only because it pays better than being a baby sitter. Then he meets the beautiful aspiring journalist Summer Hartley (Rachel Weisz), Emily’s friend and lover from an adventurous English year abroad, whom he returns a diary to that Emily for some reason mailed to him. Summer is living with her college thesis adviser, the much older grandfatherly Hampton Roth (Kevin Kline), a renown drunk, womanizer and political writer of such books as “The Decline of Almost Everything.” Scenery stealer Kline offers the only funny moments in the film.

Ryan Reynolds has matinee idol good looks and seems to be a promising star in waiting, whose time hasn’t yet arrived. If he keeps getting into uneven films like this one, his time of arrival for stardom might be on hold for a long time. The film was too cute and superficial for my taste, and the tacked on mystery story was not only a bore but didn’t seem to be the right way to explain the “facts of life” to an adolescent girl. There’s an inbred smugness to this type of film that rubs me the wrong way, even if it’s not really a terrible film as much as just being a bland one.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”