Photograph by Andrew Schwartz
FLAGGING INTEREST: Clinton supporter Will (Ryan Reynolds) has eyes for April (Isla Fisher) in 'Definitely, Maybe.'
Nostalgia for the Clinton era in 'Definitely, Maybe'
By Richard von Busack
Maybe, definitely, some novelty and fiber lurk in the fluff of Definitely, Maybe. This Valentine's Day contender includes some timely material on politics: the business of taking the shine out of young people's eyes. After finding out where babies come from in her sex-education class, 11-year-old Maya (Abigail Breslin) wants to learn how she was brought into the world. Her Manhattan ad-executive father, Will Hayes (Ryan "Van Wilder" Reynolds), is in the midst of a painful divorce from Maya's mother. Trying to figure out how it all happened, he decides to retrace his romantic history, changing the names, as a bedtime story for Maya. Before her birth, her father was involved with three different women: blonde, brunette and redhead. Will Maya be able to deduce which love lasted?
Emily (the ever-patrician Elizabeth Banks) was the college crush Will loved and left behind before moving to New York City in 1992 to work on the first Bill Clinton campaign. Emily asked Will to deliver a book to her old friend Summer (Rachel Weisz), who was going to Columbia. Summer's book turns out to be her diary. Will reads it and discovers a once-upon-a-time lesbian liaison between Summer and Emily.
Delivering the diary—clearly, it was read; strangely, Summer doesn't care—Will befriends the new girl. They share a kiss, even though she lives with her professor, Hampton Roth (Kevin Kline ), who is supposed to be a renowned political writer. Later, while at work on the campaign, Will encounters the apolitical April (Isla Fisher, a speedier version of Amy Adams). April longs for the older-fashioned romance, as signposted by her particular quirk: a collection of different editions of Jane Eyre. Of the three women, April strikes up the most romantic interest, if just through contrast; Fisher's vivacity and unpredictability warm up the too-smooth male lead a little.
While the romantic mystery is settled, we watch the process that took Will from his youthful ambition to be president to his actual job. He begins as an idealist drawn into the Clinton camp, hoping for a speech-writing job. Instead he's assigned to be a coffee fetcher. Persevering, he becomes—fictionally—the sloganeer behind the phrase "The Man From Hope." Will misses the first storm warning from the Gennifer Flowers affair, although April always smelled promiscuity on Bill Clinton, right from the start. When the full-bore Clinton sex scandal breaks out, Will is crushed.
Maybe implicit in this romance is hope for a Clinton restoration. Strangely, this aftertaste seems more bracing than the romance itself; it's more bracing, certainly, than Reynolds' smiling steadfastness and director Adam Brooks' inability to bring his story to an end.
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