A steady diet of candy will rot out even the heartiest of stomachs, and by this point in the calendar, even the most smitten and swooning moviegoer has to be heartsick from the ongoing binge of romantic comedies. Yet here we go again, with another woozy ride on the romantic carousel that would require a shot of Pepto-Bismol if not for the heroic efforts of its comely cast. Ryan Reynolds is an actor who seems forever on the cusp of breaking out and kicking into higher gear, and so too is Definitely, Maybe, a vaguely ambitious picture that seems capable of a bit more than it's willing to give.
The setup is both intriguing and cloying, with Reynolds as young dad Will, on the evening of a divorce, recounting for his daughter (Abigail Breslin) the story of how he met her mommy in the first place. If this isn't enough of a framing device, he spins the maternity as a mystery tale, a race between three likely suspects from his past, Emily (Elizabeth Banks), April (Isla Fisher) and Summer (Rachel Weisz). Then it's time for flashbacks to the era of Kurt Cobain, brick-sized cell phones, and the halcyon days of the Clinton campaign — you know, the first one.
So eager beaver Will ditches his college sweetheart Emily in Wisconsin, and heads to the Big Apple to stump for good old Slick Willie in Manhattan, but finds plenty of pretty ladies to ease his homesickness. First up, there's carefree and kooky April, who hips him to grunge, smokes American Spirits ('cause they're more natural) and seems terminally adverse to commitment or to ruining a friendship. Equally flighty is tough reporter gal Summer, who's a match physically and intellectually, but is too cynical and devoted to her career to let a square idealist like Will sink his claws into her.
So our boy keeps mooning away, a hopeless romantic adrift with only the light from his inhumanly bright white teeth to guide him. Since we've seen this kind of movie before, we know he'll make the right choice, and that it's sitting right under his perfectly bland nose — yet the script keeps trying to pile up distractions and red herrings whenever possible. It's pretty easy to get distracted by ladies like these, and you may be too filled with resentment at Reynolds for landing such amazing beauties to care which one he chooses. Even more engaging is Will's man-crush on Bill Clinton — from bright-eyed optimist to disappointed realist in the wake of Monicagate, he never really gives up on thinking about tomorrow. And the movie never gives up trying to be better than the romantic fluff we are so often forced to choke on.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.