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,