Monday, February 18, 2008

Almost, Kind of

Face it folks, right now it’s Judd Apatow’s universe and we’re just living in it. The stories that feel least manufactured and most emotionally honest are concerned with arrested adolescents taking hose first bracing steps into maturity. Defintely, Maybe’s protagonist is a bit more mature but the film gets torpedoed the moment the story falls in love with him. Definitely, Maybe gets perilously close to being great but instead winds up being entirely slightly above-average. Written and directed by Adam Brooks, the screen-writing veteran of multiple mediocre romantic comedies (Wimbledon, Bridget Jones 2 and Practical Magic among them) the film is billed as a “love-mystery.”
The story centers around Will Hayes (Reynolds), a former idealistic political consultant turned ad agent, relaying the story that amounts to “how I met your mother” (though sadly neither Jason Segel nor NPH show up). It’s nice to see Reynold evolve as a leading man, he no longer wears a permanent smug expression and les himself look vulnerable at many points in the film. He tells his story to his inquisitive daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin), who having just had an unannounced sex-ed class (the first and biggest time I called bullshit on the film) is curious about how her father and his soon to be divorced wife met. Will, more game to disclose the intimate details of his adult relationship to his pre-teen daughter then one might expect a responsible adult to be says he’ll change the names of the three potential women who could be his wife-to-be in order to up the difficulty.
Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz and Isla Fisher play Will’s three would-be soul mates with charm and enthusiasm. All three are luminous and all three manage to have convincing chemistry with Reynolds, though Banks gets short-shrift as Will’s college sweet-heart, Emily. She is presented as more of a cipher, an ideal that serves more as a pleasant obstacle than anything else. The other two women get more screen time and better fleshed out personalities. Rachel Weisz exudes a mature, intense sexuality and worldliness that reminded me of Lena Olin in Kaufman’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. There is also a moment where she sings the Gershwins’ “I’ve Got a Crush on You” that is absolutely devastatingly hot. Though of the three it is Fisher though comes off as the real winner here as she brings real star-making life into a turn that at first comes across as a Sam from Garden State knock-off but turns into something less pixie-ish and more adult. She keeps Reynolds on his toes and remains a constant in the film even when she is off-screen.
All three women are unwilling to compromise their ideals in the pursuit of marriage or have their relationships predicated on lies or any number of clichés that have been embarrassing women in the mainstream American romantic-comedy. It’s nice to see Will transform and the fact that the Clinton era serves a the backdrop to the story lends a nice thematic counterpoint to the loss of innocence. Still, the film drops the ball in that it deigns to reward Will long after the film should run it’s natural course and end. I was under the impression that the film was unconcerned with hurting it’s lead, leaving him disillusioned and heartbroken, not once, not twice but many, MANY times. It’s refreshing to think that this large scale romantic story is predicated on the eve of a divorce but as the movie drives home numerous times we can’t feel too bad for Will as he has the rue love of his love, his daughter. However, the film can’t leave well enough alone and instead of going for the realistic ending goes on five minutes longer then necessary and rewards him again. This decision turns a potentially honest and clever look at relationships into a cloying formulaic film. It’s kind of a shame as otherwise it could’ve been a contender.

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