Romantic comedies have such a lousy batting average—somewhere between movie spoofs and torture porn—that even when a half-decent one like Definitely, Maybe comes along, it's distinguished more by what it doesn't do than what it does. To that end, Definitely, Maybe doesn't rely on amnesia, magic (black or practical), the supernatural, cutesy-poo serendipity, or any other such high-concept gimmickry to get the job done. It also doesn't feature any gay-best-friend types, doesn't turn into a stand-up-comedy routine for the male lead, and doesn't clear the way to romance by making other potential partners seem treacherous or repugnant. In spite of a shortage of wit and only a mild intelligence at its core, the film at least seems intended for adults, treating matters of the heart with the thorniness inherent in fundamentally decent people trying to figure out whether they're compatible. Put simply, the film excels most at not being awful.
Continuing to molt away the many layers of smugness that dogged his Van Wilder years, Ryan Reynolds plays a soon-to-be-divorced political consultant with easygoing confidence and charisma. Then again, how could he not be easygoing, given the Sophie's choice of available women laid out before him? The too-cute framing device has his daughter (Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin) asking him to comb through his romantic past to figure out what went wrong and why he's unhappy. Changing the names to keep her from knowing which one is her mother, Reynolds reminisces about three past loves: Elizabeth Banks, his devoted college sweetheart from Wisconsin; Isla Fisher, the hippie-dippie apolitical copy girl he met while working on Bill Clinton's presidential campaign; or Rachel Weisz, a gifted young journalist whose affections present a conflict of interest.
It's perhaps fitting that these three vibrant beauties intersect while Reynolds works on the Clinton campaign, because Definitely, Maybe has a Clinton-esque sense of bruised idealism and compromise. Though he blanches at his client's waffling over the definition of "is," he makes an imperfect hero, given to scotching up relationships through betrayals, minor and major, that somehow don't make him any less likeable. But whenever Adam Brooks' script sags into cliché, it's usually the women who rescue it, especially Fisher, whose sexy, go-for-broke effervescence carries over nicely from her scene-stealing roles in Wedding Crashers and The Lookout. Perhaps she—and we—deserve better than Reynolds and Definitely, Maybe, but they'll do in a pinch.