Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: While David Wain rips into the conventions of the modern romantic-comedy with They Came Together, we recommend a few unlikely gems of the genre.
Definitely, Maybe (2008)
Ryan Reynolds has starred in several romantic comedies, modulating his smarminess as needed. In Definitely, Maybe, he leaves only a necessary trace of it as Will Hayes, a former political operative and current ad man telling his 10-year-old daughter, Maya (Abigail Breslin), how he met her mother, whom he’s about to divorce. When the film was released in 2008, How I Met Your Mother was already in its third season of telling an ultra-detailed and often inappropriate romantic origin story to children. But this “love story mystery,” as Maya calls it, must wrap up in two hours rather than nine seasons, so it quickly narrows the suspects down to three: college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks), adventurous intern April (Isla Fisher), and journalist Summer (Rachel Weisz)—names Will changes to hide their identities.
Here the movie reaps the rewards of the late-2000s gender imbalance of actors willing to do romantic comedies: No fewer than three talented and charming actresses vie for the affections of Ryan Reynolds. But to Definitely, Maybe’s credit, the film isn’t about pitting the women against each other—and to Reynolds’ credit, he gives one of his best performances by committing to the story’s more serious undertones. Will starts his career as a campaign staffer for Bill Clinton in 1992, setting him on a journey from youthful idealism to overconfidence to resulting disappointments that form a rough narrative of America in the ’90s.
Writer-director Adam Brooks has ambitions, but they aren’t too lofty; his movie is plenty cute. As in most modern rom-coms, the dialogue often sounds like an imitation of witty sitcom repartee. But if the wordplay lacks speed and bite, it’s because the characters aren’t quip machines, but fleshed-out people with lives and careers to worry about. In its slick, big-studio way, Definitely, Maybe sincerely takes stock of relationships and life choices, complicating its genre mechanics with a wealth of detail.
Availability: Definitely, Maybe is available on Blu-ray and DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix, or to rent or purchase through the major digital services.