Lost from the 90s
DEFINITELY MAYBE — Adam Brooks, USA, 2008, 3
In the same vein as below, terrible movies can sometimes make bad movies in the same genre look tolerable. What can be said about DEFINITELY MAYBE after Scott Tobias said “Put simply, the film excels most at not being awful.”
“EFINITELY MAYBE is not head-thumpingly awful, but it’s also so thoroughly mediocre and predictable throughout that it hardly makes a difference. I was hoping from the trailer to get something like THE PRINCESS BRIDE (or maybe a less-trippy version of the upcoming THE FALL) but it’s played pretty straight up, more like a TV episode than anything else.
Ryan Reynolds has no charisma or charm that I can detect and really cannot play anybody over the age of 20 in body and over 15 in soul. Of course, a girl of age 8 (in body, that is; 30 in soul) has to be the wisest character in the film because, you understand, it starts with sex ed day, and the kids are supposed to ask their parents how they met. Once the characters of the three women the father is telling her about, as the women he dated seriously, have been set up — and you know from the film’s opening scene that the marriage in the flashback storytime tale is gonna end in divorce in the film’s present-tense— well, all you have to do is remember that Hollywood values are those of bohemian anti-traditionalism (now calcified enough to be its own tradition), and it’s obvious.
Still, DEFINITELY MAYBE is notable for two firsts in current movies. First, it’s an exercise in 90s nostalgia. And surprisingly, it’s not nearly as didactic as I’d feared when the plot makes Reynolds a volunteer with Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. BTW, this is one of those movies that takes place over 15 years and nobody ages noticeably. But nostalgia for a decade that I was already an adult when it began? I feel old.
Second and far more interestingly … like all movies now, DEFINITELY MAYBE takes place in the routine-divorce culture. That can’t not affect the romantic comedy genre, and I alluded to one of the ways here last year. But still, never have I seen in a conventional romantic-comedy, a child spend the movie’s last reel trying to get her father back together — not with her mother — but with an old girlfriend whom the child had never met. And not because her mother is dead or abusive or somehow “out of the picture.” Now, we consider divorce so routine (a reason for the one in this movie is never even hinted at, as if there’s no need) that we consider it an acceptable fantasy for a child of divorce to express, not the natural wish about her parents getting together, but a wish about getting a step-parent. If there’s been a conventional romantic-comedy with that rather self-rationalizing-for-adults premise (“it’s what the kids WANT”) — I’m unaware of it.
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