I want to assure readers from the get-go that I will avoid cutesy critic-speak throughout this post--phrases like, "Say 'definitely' to 'Definitely, Maybe'!" Do not fear, dear readers, do not fear...
"Definitely, Maybe" is certainly a very ambitious film--it even pauses for a soaring standalone musical number performed by Rachel Weisz. Such a bold stroke in an otherwise non-musical film can make or break a big-studio romantic picture, but the makers of this film feel pretty comfortable walking a high-wire.
The film, written and directed by Adam Brooks, who contributed to the intriguing near-miss that was "Wimbledon," as well as the near-disastrous "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason," is the latest entry in the high-concept romantic comedy genre. In this case, the film is structured as a love story whodunit, with Ryan Reynolds playing a recently-divorced father who tells the story of his adult love life to his tween daughter (Abigail Breslin) without telling her (or the audience) which character her mother is. The film sets up three possible scenarios and builds to the inevitable surprise revelation. Cutesy, cutesy.
My fear going into the film was that it would collapse under the weight of said too-clever concept--that betraying the characters and the story would be easier than betraying the mystery structure. To a certain degree, my worries were well-founded; Brooks is so preoccupied with embracing unconvential storytelling that he falls prey to the tried-and-true romantic comedy conventions, from the Ebert-coined 'meet cute' to the . The film presents a very obvious romantic foil for Reynolds, and as such the other women subtly get pushed to the side; though we don't necessarily know who he will end up with, we know who he *should* end up with. However, what elevates "Definitely, Maybe" above and beyond lesser films is the truth of its story and most certainly the irresistible power of its acting.
Ryan Reynolds has always been a wonderful actor stuck in shitty films ("Van Wilder," "Waiting," "Just Friends," on and on). It has always seemed like no one really knew what to do with his talent, and therefore relegated him to the clever leading man in god-awful wannabe comedies. But Reynolds had a breakout 2007 in Joe Carnahan's genius-but-little-seen "Smokin' Aces" and John August's even-less-seen but equally, beautifully fucked-up "The Nines." In "Definitely, Maybe," Reynolds calms his comedic persona and eases into his first strong studio film. His charm sells both the film's tenuous emotional moments as well as its rapid-fire comedic dialogue.
Reynolds shares the screen with four equally-wonderful female counterparts in Breslin, Weisz, Isla Fisher, and Elizabeth Banks. Everyone knows Breslin as the smart, wide-eyed girl from "Little Miss Sunshine" who, with Dakota Fanning, is putting all other current child actors to shame. Likewise, Oscar-winner Weisz is becoming a hot commodity in her own right, and in this film seems like the wonderfully-seasoned pro amid the other up-and-coming actors. Banks is getting a lot of pub for this role, as well she should (she'll finally get her shot as a lead in Kevin Smith's "Zac and Miri Make a Porno"). But the standout, breakout, world-shattering female star of "Definitely, Maybe" is Isla Fisher, who stands toe-to-toe with Reynolds for every second of her screen time and never misses a beat. Fisher is probably best known as the bimbo from "Wedding Crashers," but that role was an insult compared to what she is truly capable of. On the basis of this film, Isla Fisher could become the biggest, brightest female star of her generation--if she so chooses.
In a year with so few quality options, "Definitely, Maybe" is unequivocally the best studio film so far this year.