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'Definitely' a quirky kind of bedtime tale.

Definitely, maybe Universal Directed by Adam Brooks Starring: Ryan Reynolds Isla Fisher

A pleasingly nonformulaic romantic serio-comedy, "Definitely, Maybe" has charm and some depth, even if it's ultimately more a triple than a home run. Tale of a divorcing father relating his complicated romantic history to an inquisitive daughter will click with viewers for its refreshing indifference to current romantic-comedy fashions, being neither Judd Apatow-esque raunchy nor indie-edgy. With enough word-of-mouth momentum, potential sleeper could be the breakout film for Ryan Reynolds, who seems on the verge of major stardom. That's a maybe, but writer-helmer Adam Brooks' ingratiating pic will definitely have an extended run in ancillary.

Framing device has Reynolds as Will Hayes, an advertising exec on the verge of finalizing his divorce with the mother of Maya (Abigail Breslin), of whom they have joint custody. When Will picks Maya up from school, he's surprised that she's just gotten her first, rather premature sex-ed lesson, and is full of embarrassing questions as a result. In particular, she insists Dad tell her exactly how many women he went out with before morn, and how they came to be married. He reluctantly agrees, but tells this bedtime story with the names changed, so she'll have to guess which character Mom turns out to be.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Subsequent flashback occupies nearly all of the runtime, occasionally broken by Maya's inquiries and comments--which, being of that precious movie-kid nature, will for some rep the weakest element here.

Will's romantic travails commence in Madison, Wis., where he's leaving perfect college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks) to spend two months in New York working on the 1992 Clinton campaign. She's not happy about it, but he has grand ambitions--like becoming president one day himself--and is confident they can weather the separation. His first experiences in the big city are disillusioning, but eventually his talents are appreciated, his responsibilities elevated--and there are other sources of excitement, too, most notably friendships with two very attractive women.

There's April (Isla Fisher), a defiantly apolitical, somewhat rudderless free spirit who works at campaign HQ for cash rather than the cause. Also a playful provocateur, albeit far more professionally driven, is aspiring journalist Summer (Rachel Weisz), a one-time schoolmate of Emily's.

Will's amorous fortunes weave unpredictably around these three women, as his career also goes through ups and downs. Brooks' screenplay uses the political landscape of the (first?) Clinton era as a backdrop, getting some witty mileage out of its own ups and downs. But the primary focus is always on protag's lovelife, which seems eternally plagued by instances of right girl/wrong moment awkward conflicts of interest and so forth. Little Maya is kept guessing who her morn will be to the end.

Pic might have done better to close on a tentative, hopeful note a la "Sideways," rather than going for the usual crowdpleasing clinch that resolves everything too neatly. And some may find that Will's bouncing among his three loves wears out its welcome around the 90-minute mark.

For the most part, though, "Definitely, Maybe" succeeds at being credible, amusing, bittersweet and intelligent--a "Manhattan"-esque exercise for twentysomethings that neither imitates Woody Allen (as so many do) nor goes the mumblecore route.

It helps that all leads are at their most appealing. Reynolds is in lowkey form but still exerts deft comic timing; Weisz and Fisher sharply delineate characters that a more formulaic exercise might have simply turned into Quirky Girls 1 and 2. Banks is fine, though Emily winds up the least developed central figure. And Kevin Kline has a great time in a short but showy role as a famous political analyst; supporting cast is full of nice turns you'll wish had more screentime.

A bit bland at first, production package warms up to pay suitable homage to the Big Apple as a character. All tech and design contributions are smooth.

DEFINITELY, MAYBE

A Universal (in U.S.) release presented in association with Studio Canal of a Working Title (U.K.) production. Produced by Tim Bevan, Erie Fellner. Executive producers, Liza Chasin, Bobby Cohen. Co-executive producer Kerry Orent.

Directed, written by Adam Brooks. Camera (color, widescreen), Florian Ballhaus; editor, Peter Teschner; music, Clint Mansell; music supervisor, Nick Angel; production designer, Stephanie Carroll; art director, Peter Rogness; set decorator Ellen Christiansen; costume designer, Gary Jones; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Michael Barosky; supervising sound editor, Robert Hein; re-recording mixers, Dominick Tavella; visual effects supervisor, Randy Balsmeyer; visual effects, Big Film Design; assistant director, Timothy Bird; second unit director, Christopher Goode; casting, Laura Rosenthal, All Farrell. Reviewed at Sony Metreon, San Francisco, Jan. 8, 2008. (In Santa Barbara Film Festival--opener.) MPAA Rating: PG13. Running time: 111 MIN.
Will Hayes                Ryan Reynolds
April                       Isla Fisher
Russell McCormack            Derek Luke
Maya Hayes              Abigail Breslin
Emily                   Elizabeth Banks
Summer Hartley             Rachel Weisz
Gareth                     Adam Ferrara
Anne                      Annie Parisse
Kelly                     Liane Balaban
Arthur Robredo           Nestor Serrano
Rafael                   Kevin Corrigan
Simon                     Jaime Tirelli
Hampton Roth                Kevin Kline
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Title Annotation:Definitely, Maybe
Author:Harvey, Dennis
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Movie review
Date:Jan 28, 2008
Words:824
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