Modern Love, No Doubt About It

    {grate 3} After a recent string of movies that stretched the limits of
    indie tolerance to attempt the unconventional and ironic, it’s refreshing to
    snuggle into a musty movie theater seat and know exactly what to expect. That’s
    what “Definitely, Maybe” will deliver on Valentine’s Day — it’s a classic
    romantic comedy, enlivened by a vibrant cast, a fresh premise and writing that
    doesn’t stray far from its genre’s demands (a chuckle here, well-placed tearful
    revelation there). Clearly, English producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner
    (“Love, Actually”) are at home in their sentimental element.

    The honesty of “Definitely” is what drives it far from the
    ditch of Lifetime flicks and empty date-crowd calories. It executes the rare
    feat of being both a mostly cheese-free romance, and funny without the
    “aww-shucks” schmaltz we’ve grown to expect out of February fare. Its breakout
    star is the every-woman’s fantasy husband, Ryan Reynolds, who has managed to
    peel away from past disposable roles (Van Wilder, anyone?) to expose an
    impressive sense of timing and subtlety as Will, the unassuming charmer. Throw
    in an 11-year-old with middle-aged poise (darling lil’ Abigail Breslin), and
    suddenly, the potential to move from cute to cutting is born.

    When daughter Maya (Breslin) gets a sex-ed talk at grade
    school, it opens the door for more pressing questions for her pop — was she a
    mistake? Why do parents rehearse the act, if they don’t want the real thing?
    Then, the question that spirals into a fairytale of Woody Allen convolution:
    Who is my mother?

    Realizing that the wide-eyed girl deserves an explanation,
    Will props Maya against her princess pillow, takes a deep breath, and delves
    into the nostalgic ’90s, when he moved to Manhattan
    fresh outta college, to work on Bill Clinton’s campaign.

    Along with some amusing retro references (Will is given a
    breadbox-sized cell phone), we are introduced to three potential mothers: the
    blonde Wisconsin housewife Emily (Elizabeth Banks), the effervescent and
    apolitical April (Isla Fisher), and the aspiring journalist Summer (Rachel
    Weisz) — all of whom play their roles expertly, endearing us to their
    individual quirks, talents, and extreme close-up eye crinkles. A few cameos are
    equally skillful, like Kevin Kline’s gruff and brilliant Hampton Roth (a
    professor who equates two freshman lovers to one sophomore).

    As Will sleeps with each woman, has his heart broken and
    salvaged and endures various would-have-been, should-have-been encounters, the
    story comes to a few slow stumbles but never a screeching halt (thanks to
    punchy interruptions from Breslin). The second we start forgetting about one
    love interest, she snakes her way back into Will’s life, coloring it with yet
    another plot twist or self-doubting tangent. Pulling from reality,
    writer-director Adam Brooks never grants us instant gratification, leaving us
    waiting in suspense up to the film’s anticlimactic, but nonetheless satisfying,
    close.

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