You might look at that poster and the helpful ‘From the makers of Notting Hill and Love, Actually‘ and think ‘My god what a load of cheesy nonsense I’m staying away from that’ (like my boyfriend) and I’d totally understand, especially given the tagline that makes little sense. ‘A second look at the past’? When was his first look, I mean, had he reminisced before this film? But I think you’d be missing out if you ignored it…well, if nice rom-coms are remotely your thing of course. If you’d rather take a spoon to your liver then jog on.
Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) is a thirty-something (his age is never specifically given and it is a bit of a stretch at times to imagine him as a) older and b) a father but it mostly works) advertising exec who doesn’t really love his job trying to get kids to eat more cereal. But he gets through his days knowing he gets to spend time with his ten year old daughter, Maya (Abigail Breslin). Will is about to sign divorce papers and so only sees Maya on certain days. Like this day, when he picks her up from school to find they’ve had a sex education talk and Maya won’t stop saying ‘penis’ loudly until he tells her the story of her parents’ relationship, to better understand their split. Will tries to make it more interesting (for her and us) by changing names and dates so we don’t know who the mother is, and both Maya and the viewer get to play a game of name that mom.
That’s the basic cutesy bit of the premise. We then follow Will from a recent, bright-eyed graduate off to work on the Clinton campaign for a summer in New York, and leaving behind college girlfriend, Emily. Possible Mom No 1. Working on the campaign is hard at first and he loses some of his enthusiasm as he’s stocking toilet paper and making copies, where he meets April. Possible Mom No 2. She’s a free spirit and won’t take any of his dreamy bullshit. They become good friends. Meanwhile, Emily has given Will a package to give Summer, an old friend, which he of course opens and then goes to meet her. Possible Mom No 3. She’s an intellectual wannabe journalist having a relationship with a much older man and therefore out of Will’s league.
So those are the women, and he has relationships and friendships with each as he moves through different jobs, successes and defeats and loses a bit of his optimism. Part of what’s so likable about Definitely, Maybe is that, even though it’s a romantic comedy, it’s not just about the love and romance. We get to know Will and his dreams and watch him grow up and become comfortable in his skin. He becomes more confident in his work and his love life, and his life isn’t perfect. He suffers setbacks and disillusionment, and it doesn’t seem over done. He suffers when his heroes disappoint him, and he messes up his relationships as much as he is hurt by them in turn. And each one means something to him and teaches him important lessons, ones we should all probably learn. There is no ‘One’. Your current one may be your one for a lifetime, or they may instead be a brief affair that leads you on to the next, where you take what you’ve learned, your mistakes and accomplishments, and try to do better.
Ultimately Definitely, Maybe is an incredibly sweet film with a cute mystery element. I had seen it before a few years ago, so I knew how it would turn out (you mostly do anyway, but it’s fun not knowing for a little while) but that didn’t stop it being just as enjoyable the second time around. I also like that all three women are well rounded, likable characters, and you would pretty much be happy if he ended up with any of them, as they all seem to fit him well for the stages of life he is in when they are together. None of them are shrews, none of them go out of their way to make him feel bad, and the relationships end because of various reasons, not because either of them didn’t try or didn’t love one another. Sometimes circumstances are the greater factor. And it’s nice to watch a man on film be allowed to grow up, and have feelings, and be a good dad, and not go the gross-out route. For that alone this is a winner.