Definitely, Maybe. . . Not!

One of the cardinal rules for surviving Valentine’s Day is to avoid “celebrating” your relationship with a batch of other couples in a fancy restaurant offering that “very special” menu. The other is to avoid that very special romantic comedy that Hollywood has decided to release as the ideal Valentine date movie.

I would love to love Definitely, Maybe, if only because it stars Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds—who seems like a smart, decent human being in spite of his matinee idol looks and ability to date Scarlett Johannson—and because it’s is written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Adam Brooks. But I can’t find it in my heart to even give this movie even a mixed review. It’s a clunker.

Guys beware. Although Reynolds plays the central character, this is a romantic comedy that panders to the opposite sex in the worst way. He plays Will, a perfect dad in mid-divorce, who unravels his early love life as a G-rated bedtime story,for his daughter (Abigail Breslin, who’s getting a little too old to be pushing the cute, precocious button). Will is a sensitive, unthreatening, largely docile hunk of good intent. A vision of manhood as a champagne truffle. The only thing that could make him more abjectly eligible is if her were a widower.

In a ponderous series of flashbacks, Reynolds serves as a confused and strangly placid leading man befuddled by a choice of prospective mates—Isla Fischer, Elizabeth Banks and Rachel Weisz. The narrative is framed as a guessing game: as we work our way through this tale of romantic trial and error, his daughter, and the audience, try to figure out which woman will turn out to be the girl’s mother.

What gives the story some timely resonance is that it’s set against the backdrop of Bill Clinton’s first primary campaign, but the politics just serves as so much wallpaper, and a device to reinforce the notion that Will starts out as a naïve idealist who (like America) has his illusions tarnished once he’s been around the block.

Romantic comedy is a delicate form, the thoroughbred of Hollywood genres. Ideally it should clock in at under 100 minutes. If you let it sprawl beyond two hours, as this one does, it better have enough laughs, and enough dramatic tension, to sustain the length. Definitely, Maybe doesn’t sustain its running time.

I’m not sure this fiasco is Reynolds’ fault, aside from the fact that he decided to do it in the first place. The script lacks wit. The danger of gift-wrapping the story in the pink gauze of a little girl’s bedtime story tends to drain any sexiness right out of it. And as a clueless guy beset by circumstance, Reynolds simply isn’t given enough to do. It’s as if he’s playing the gormless chick in a more conventional romance. In the name of converting this comic actor from smart-ass frat boy to mature leading man, his sharp edges have been sand-blasted away, and there’s not a whole lot left. He doesn’t even look good in this movie. Somehow director Brooks has managed to shoot him so that he appears blank, small-eyed and bland. If you can’t deliver a devastating close-up of your romantic lead in a film like this, you’re in deep trouble.

So is Ryan Reynolds destined to be a Canadian answer to Ben Affleck—in other words, will Definitely, Maybe sink his career as a romantic lead? Well, definitely maybe. But I feel there’s an untapped talent here that still hasn’t found the right role. But, without being so cruel as to suggest that his latest movie is a disaster, I talked to Reynolds recently for the magazine. I found him charming, intelligent and candid. You can find that interview, along with some other thoughts about Definitely, Maybe, by clicking on Walking the Hollywood high wire.