Definitely, Maybe is a lousy title, but I’m guessing the studio went with it because How I Met Your Mother was already taken.
Hollywood should make movies like this one more often – an unconventionally structured comedy that casts a number of talented, attractive, and unheralded actors in leading roles. You want to root for it, but sadly the film turns out to have a negligible effect, when a few easy changes could have made it into something terrific. The movie starts with New York ad executive Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) picking up his daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) at school, only to find the place in chaos because the teachers have just given a state-mandated sex-education class to the young students – what makes the scene funny is Maya’s quiet sense of purpose amid the other kids’ yelling and freaking out. The whole experience spurs her to ask her dad how he met her mom, an oddly appropriate subject given that he just signed the divorce papers. The rest of the movie is presented as a big flashback, with Will telling Maya the story of the three significant relationships he’s had in his life but changing the women’s names so that she has to guess which one of them is her mother.
The movie’s messiness is by design. Will starts out as an idealistic political organizer who goes to work for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992 and grows into a hotshot campaign manager before losing his bearings after the Lewinsky scandal and his job after his journalist girlfriend, Summer (Rachel Weisz), digs up dirt that takes down his biggest client. This is potentially interesting, but most of the movie’s focus is on Will’s women rather than his work. Summer is Girlfriend No. 2, whom he is kicked over to in an outrageously roundabout way by Girlfriend No. 1, Emily (Elizabeth Banks). No. 3 is an underachieving campaign worker named April (Isla Fisher). Usually in these movies, the free-spirited girl is supposed to teach the uptight guy how to loosen up, so it’s refreshing that here he has to teach her how to buckle down. Still, the free-spirit character can easily become annoying in the wrong hands, and, partly because of the writing and the acting, that is exactly what happens here.
Reynolds’ quick-witted comic presence is always good to have around, and there is an intriguing subplot involving Summer’s other boyfriend, a much older blowhard intellectual (Kevin Kline). Writer-director Adam Brooks is undeniably stronger with political barbs and workplace banter than he is with relationship talk, yet it’s the latter that ends up dominating the movie, especially in a long-drawn-out conclusion in which Maya helps her dad find the right woman and an unforgivably soppy scene in which he declares that his daughter is the happy ending to his story. You’ll probably have checked out before that, though. This is a movie that you’ll like at first because you don’t know where it’s going to go, but by the end you’ll hate it for the same reason.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks, and Abigail Breslin. Written and directed by Adam Brooks. Rated PG-13.