Thursday, February 14, 2008
Movie review: Definitely, Maybe
This film is undoubtedly, possibly a ho-hum affair. (It's a series of them, actually.)
This may be the most aptly-titled movie I've ever reviewed. It almost certainly has an ending - provisionally, at least - though it perhaps won't come soon enough for you. Speaking entirely for me.
Definitely, Maybe tells the long-winded story (in flashback, mostly) of peripatetic gadfly Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds, sporting a range of expression that would put most department store mannequins to shame), who must explain to his daughter Maya (wunderkind Abigail Breslin, acting rings around him) why it is that he's getting divorced from her mom. We are constrained from revealing the identity of that actress/character because the mystery surrounding which of three individuals she actually may be is what carries the drama portion of this melancholic romantic dramedy along to its eventual blessed conclusion, nearly two hours into your movie-viewing future.
Will loves his daughter, who he picks up from school one afternoon to discover that she (along with all of her sixth-grade classmates) has been subjected to a rather detail-laden sex education primer and now wants to know everything about... well... everything relating to the physical coefficient of baby making. Maya's particularly confused about the manner in which a parental pair might "accidentally" conceive a child, operating on the assumption that a man and a woman would only engage in sex for that purpose. Will couches his answer in terms of a "trial run," which seems to satisfy her curiosity on that score.
Not to be mollified on the divorce topic, however, Maya demands to be told about her father's romantic history - he having (foolishly) revealed to her that her mom was not his only girlfriend. Which leads us to the extended bed-time story that comprises the gist of the film. The fact that this tale turns out to be something more like an airing of Dad's dirty laundry than anything composed by Walt Disney or the Brothers Grimm is what makes this a PG-13 affair, not to mention fairly questionable content for daughter Maya's consumption.
But, hey - she wanted to know.
In order to make things more interesting for Maya, Will (acting on behalf of director/writer Adam Brooks) decides to relate the details of his romantic career by assigning fictional names to his paramours. Thus, as we (and Maya) journey vicariously down Will's memory lane, we're seeing (and hearing about) the lives of three different women as they intersect with Will, without knowing which one ends up being Maya's mom.
This narrative flashback trolley deposits us first in Madison, Wisconsin. It's 1992, the early days of the Bill Clinton campaign, and starry-eyed Will is an enthusiastic supporter who decides to pack his bags and go to New York to work in the campaign headquarters of his political idol. Which leaves his girlfriend Emily (Elizabeth Banks) wondering whether she'll ever see him again, once he gets a taste of the Big Apple.
As Will departs, Emily hands him a wrapped parcel and requests rather cryptically that he deliver it to her old school chum, Summer (Rachel Weisz), now residing in New York. But before he can makes any attempt to track down Summer, Will must acclimate to his new posting as campaign office go-fer, made more difficult because he fully expected to start off as a key speech writer; instead he finds himself low man on a heavily-populated totem pole, making coffee runs and replenishing depleted toilet paper supplies.
The only bright spot in Will's new circumstances appears in the person of April (Isla Fisher), an apolitical office worker who's only in it for the salary. Her refreshing lack of zeal makes her an office stand-out, as do her slender figure, flowing red locks and remarkably abbreviated skirts. (Did they really wear them that short in the early 90's?) Will and April seem to hit it off and they're soon going out together for coffee.
Will shares a modest apartment with another campaign worker named Russell (Derek Luke), who encourages him to unwrap and have a look at whatever it is that Emily sent with him to give to Summer. It turns out to be a diary, and - of course! - the two fellows begin reading it. Within the diary's pages, Summer (for the volume turns out to have been her chronicle) details her burgeoning affection for none other than Emily, and ends up describing how they smooched on a staircase. Which adds a kick of immediacy to Will's interest in meeting this mysterious and exotic woman from Emily's past.
Enter Hampton Roth (Kevin Kline), answering the door to Summer's apartment clad in a bathrobe; it turns out he's living with Summer while at the same time serving as her thesis advisor. He's also a novelist with whose works Will is acquainted; they chat amiably while awaiting Summer's appearance. By the time Summer arrives, she finds both men asleep and somewhat worse for their whiskey consumption; she intrigues Will and is intrigued by him, leading us to suspicion that we'll soon be seeing more of her. Which of course we will.
If this is beginning to sound somewhat tedious to you, gentle readers, then I've succeeded in conveying the tenor of this film, which - if anything - tends to be too much like Will's life: chatty, messy and mostly inconsequential, made interesting only by the periodic appearance of fascinating women to whom Will habitually fails to commit. By the time Maya steers him into the arms of his presumed ultimate soul mate, we who have seen such things before are given to wonder whether this pairing isn't just another in the series, doomed to eventual dissolution. If so, then at least we won't be required to sit through that part of the never-ending story.
Of the supporting female performances, that of Ms. Weisz stands out as being particularly troublesome. She seems to be struggling against the necessity of her own appearance, often grimacing when a smile might have been called for. Elizabeth Banks is a good actress, but the role she's been assigned combines grand seductress with devoted mom, and I'm seeing far more of the latter in her than the former. Only Ms. Fisher's April appears to have genuine chemistry with Mr. Reynolds' Will - which ends up being a good thing.
NOT THE WAY SHE MEANT IT: "He gets women." - April, re. Bill Clinton
DOING HIS SUMS: "She tells me you're dating a sophomore." - Will to Hampton Roth.
"No, actually it's two freshmen. On a good day that adds up to a sophomore." - Hampton's reply
DAUGHTER KNOWS BEST: "Trust me, Dad - you're not happy." - Maya