PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

Definitely, Maybe

As much as she wants her dad's story to be a kind of hybrid surprise, Maya early on comprehends its conventionality.


Definitely, Maybe

Director: Adam Brooks
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Derek Luke, Kevin Kline
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Universal Pictures
First date: 2008
UK Release Date: 2008-02-08 (General release)
US Release Date: 2008-02-14 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) is a determined idealist. This despite his youthful commitment to Bill Clinton and his upcoming divorce. At the start of Definitely, Maybe, Will is almost painfully cheerful, making his way to pick up his daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) from school, his head (and the soundtrack) filled with Sly Stone's bright, propulsive "Everyday People." Folks on the sidewalk smile into his POV camera and he walks, in slow motion, all good will and hope.

On arriving at school, however, his happy day is dashed: the students have been exposed to sex education and their parents are in a panic. "Do you have sex with daddy?" worries a little girl. Maya is more direct, asking about penises and thrusts and vaginas. "Stop saying 'penis,'" Will pleads as they head through the foyer, past the doorman, to his apartment. Aha, Maya deduces, if she wants him to do something for her -- like tell him the true story of how he met her mother -- all she has to do is say "penis" a few more times. She's not only adorable and clever, but also right.

The rest of the movie, beginning with Maya's self-arrangement among her pillows and stuffed animals, is dad's story as she hears it. Maya slides in occasionally by split screen, to perk up the story with whoa-there questions or precocious commentary. She calls it "like a love story mystery," as Will changes women's names in order to keep her guessing as to who mom's identity. First of the three candidates is Emily (Elizabeth Banks), his "college sweetheart" in Wisconsin, with whom he is "deeply in love." When Will decides that he needs to move to NYC to work for the Clinton campaign, she's worried that the city will "change" him, but he assures her that she's the perfect mate, that he only needs to pursue his dream a little bit, and that they'll be together following his couple of months in the melee of political wheeling and dealing.

As much as she wants the story to be a kind of hybrid surprise, Maya early on comprehends its conventionality. "Everybody knows that the girl at the beginning of the story always gets dumped," she whines, as pretty Emily recedes in Will's departing POV shot. In New York, he is provided a roommate-confidante-coworker, Russell (Derek Luke), whose earnest support of the candidate recalls, rather nostalgically, that brief moment when Bill Clinton was deemed "cool" on Arsenio. Sadly, Russ is soon reduced to Will's advisor, encouraging the good white boy to read through the diary Emily has asked him to deliver to her erstwhile best friend and onetime lover, Summer (Rachel Weisz).

The titillation provided by such reading serves as yet another sign of the boys' lingering adolescence (Will literally reads under his covers with a flashlight, not exactly endearing). The point is underscored when Will meets Summer and her lover/thesis advisor, Hampton Roth (scene-stealing Kevin Kline). She's the second option in the who's-your-mama? saga, smart, sensuous, and careerist, while Hampton is brilliant, cynical, and predictably alcoholic. When Will and Summer embark on what appears a perfect relationship, Hampton shows up occasionally as the Not-Will, doubting motives, desires, and candidates, bedding younger and younger women, and lapsing into witty irrelevance (he notes Will's affiliation with the Cheese State, sees through Clinton's posturing).

As Emily is too provincial and Summer is too ambitious, April (Isla Fisher) is more generally too much. A Nirvana fan with a perpetually absent rocker boyfriend, she works making copies at the Clinton campaign office. Still, she's not a believer for a minute, debating Will about Clinton's merits just as the Gennifer Flowers story breaks on TV. "You're right about one thing," she chides Will. "He 'gets' women." Erk. As the film persists in situating Will's learning curve alongside the "era" his candidate embodies, its structure is simultaneously allusive and uncomfortable, especially when Maya breaks in asking for answers, eventually reduced to tears when she suddenly realizes that all the convolutions might lead to a wowza ending, namely, that Will is not her father. Her trembling lip and big wet eyes inspires him to reassure her absolutely before he finishes the story about her mom, but the moment is an odd one, suggesting not only the film's investment in uncertainty ("mystery") as narrative device, but also its most salient point about the '90s, that for all its reputation as a time of national hope and prosperity, it was also, always, a time of distrust, betrayal, and politics as usual.

This much is made manifest when Will takes on his last political job, for mayoral candidate Arthur Robredo (Nestor Serrano). (Will is introduced as an ad exec, working on campaigns for Quaker Oats and Cap'n Crunch.) Though Definitely, Maybe doesn't specify Robredo's politics, his general smarminess is clear enough, and so he must become an object lesson for Our Will, who makes wrong decisions and draws some strange moral lines, en route to discovering... Mrs. Right. As the film devolves into pap, you see that its use of the faux-familiar political backdrop is in the end incidental, just one way to get to the requisite ideal romance. It's nice for Maya to be able to believe in her dad's happy ending, even if the rest of us are left with disheartening political facts and fictions.

5

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.