Fans of the television sitcom How I Met Your Mother may sense something familiar in Definitely, Maybe. Well more than familiar actually. It’s basically the entire run of the series condensed down into a single movie, except minus Barney and that annoying laugh track.
It begins with divorcee Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds), cajoled by his precious young daughter (Abigail Breslin) into telling her the story of how he met and fell in love with her mother. Clad in PJs and buried beneath the covers, Breslin’s scenes with Reynolds are eerily reminiscent of Fred Savage and Peter Falk’s moments in The Princess Bride. Much like Falk, Reynold’s serves as the film’s omniscient narrator, with occasional breaks between flashbacks for cuddly, emotional moments between father and daughter. Peter Falk told Fred Savage the kind of romance story boys want to hear, with pirates, sword fighting, and revenge. Reynolds tells Abigail Breslin the kind of romance story girls want to hear, without violence and lots of gooey kissey stuff.
Luckily it’s really good kissey stuff, and though we’re viewing the retelling of Will’s forlorn lovelife through the lens of a story told to his elementary school aged daughter, there’s nothing childish about what shows up on screen. Will’s tale is more than the story of how he met her mother, it’s also the story of his life. We’re with him as a young man, full of big dreams, drive, and ambitions; and then later as a middle-aged man who discovers, as those of us who don’t become rockstars inevitably must, that those dreams are beyond his grasp.
Throughout Will’s life the are women and there is love, and where those things are heartbreak follows. Though Definitely, Maybe is well balanced by a lighter tone, this is less a romantic comedy than is a romantic drama, one in which Ryan Reynolds casts aside the wisecracking persona he’s usually known for and gives what is without a doubt the best performance of his career. His performance and his character’s story, are both every bit as complex and colored in with grey areas as the movie’s title suggests.
As the film’s female cast members Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz, and Elizabeth Banks are pitch perfect. Each woman embodies something completely different to Will, and all three actresses give memorable, unique performances. Perhaps more importantly none of them, even in their character’s worst moments, is every thrust into the easy, cliché rom-com role of a bitchy, man-hating villain. But ultimately it’s Breslin who scores biggest as the movie’s supporting character. Part of it’s her look; unlike so many of Hollywood’s child actors she looks normal. She’s not a pageant-haired, underage beauty queen or an awkward looking, over-makeuped moppet. She’s just a kid, and her charming chemistry with Reynolds, in between “aww cute” moments, is what drives the movie.
A lot of credit for how well Definitely, Maybe is pulled off has to go to writer/director Adam Banks, who takes a fairly simple premise and resists the temptation to turn it into a standard, Hollywood rom-com pitch. There are no wacky neighbors or amusing pets. Banks keeps both his script and his direction smart and fresh. Definitely, Maybe is a genuine and surprisingly affecting film about more than fantasy romance. In its best moments, it’s simply about living and in its grandest it’s about finding lasting, realistic love.