It’s not too often that the wife and I see eye to eye about the same movies, but we found ourselves drawn in by the trailers for “Definitely, Maybe”, a sort of romantic comedy whodunnit that opens on Valentine’s Day. The big sell for me was the names they dropped during the trailer, “Love Actually” (one of my faves) and “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. Both are thoughtful and sweet movies worthy of plenteous discussion; and a surprisingly masculine take on the perils of navigating a love life though today’s dangerous waters. And from the previews “Definitely, Maybe” looked like the next installment from clever British writer Richard Curtis.
The film did not disappoint, and in fact, I believed that Curtis was the writer till I got home and checked IMDB. In reality the credit goes to Adam Brooks, who worked with Curtis on “Bridget Jones II: The One I Never Saw” or something like that. But before I start fawning over the film, I have to make a point or two from “Four Weddings…” which I saw a couple months back and was immediately stirred by. The film takes place over 5 distinct and separate scenes: yes, four of which are weddings and one of which is a funeral. But as we get to know the usual cast of characters, and we sense the complication of the situation and character’s frustrations as they desperately try to find a lasting love. The solution for lasting love seems to be ostensibly placed in the institution of marriage, and for some of the characters it seems to provide what it promises. For the rest of the cast however, marriage is a misleading trick that slips a yoke about one, condemning them to quarrels, unhappiness, and most importantly insincerity. What does marriage have to do with love? What does it offer love? The movie ends with a sort of rejection of the institution – not outright rejection, rather a childlike entering into an anti-marriage. To no ones complete surprise, the only real difference between marriage as most people know it, and the portrayed anti-marriage is the name and the ceremony, which somehow the two lovebirds are allergic to.
Now, while this picture of marriage is not particularly commendable, neither are the characters. They, like Dr. Cox and Jordan from Scrubs, are emotionally misfiring, which is reason for their allergic reaction to marriage and its blessings. It is not freeing to not be able to celebrate the coming together of two people into one flesh in the celebratory sacrament of marriage, nor is it freeing to not be able to describe your state of almost being married. The movie doesn’t portray the situation as commendable as much as it does relieving. It offers a sense of hope, and sense of trust in the continued, reliable, and mundane love between two people, and that palpable hope is worthy of a qualified endorsement.
“Maybe” is a graduation up from this unpleasantly reserved commendation. The movie begins with the surprisingly able Ryan Reynolds being handed his divorce papers, which he sorrows over and doesn’t sign. After picking up his delightful daughter Mia from school, he finds himself telling her the story of how he met her mom. Mia shows a glimmer of hope that if he tells her the story he would realize that everything wasn’t always “complicated”, the way he keeps saying it is. So he begins, with the concession that by changing the names of the parties involved that he will keep the identity of her mom a mystery.
Like “Love Actually” and “Four Weddings” the movie’s rich characters search for that thing that is missing in their life; sometimes intensely, other times despondently, but always in a way that is relatable and compelling. Will (Ryan Reynolds) is sure that he’s in love with his college sweetheart – he “has plans” – but soon he’s finding that the commitment to her is closing down other paths… and which one to take? who can tell. So he wanders through life, chasing something that is only partly in his control, trying to live well, loving the one he’s with, and all the while confessing to his daughter his candid past. (….delivered as only a 12 year old can: “Daddy, I’m mad that you smoked, I’m mad you drank, and I’m mad that you were a slut! But I love you.”)
The story ends, and the real mom revealed, but the divorce is still looming and Will finds himself once more torn in several directions. In a particularly touching scene the perspective shifts from Will to Mia, as she stares at her mom and her dad talking about something, anything. Closely she inspects their expression and movements, looking for the tell-tale sign that will either signal the hope of reunion or the end of a story.
Love leads us into love, and the love of one person can sometimes be what we need to find our way back into the arms of another. The kicker about love is, that sometimes those arms are open, and sometimes they aren’t; and as Shakespeare has taught us more than once, timing is everything.
I would love to talk more about the movie, but I really would rather not spoil the movie by either revealing the ending or by baiting your anticipation. But if you do see it, please tell me… what do you think it the family unit and the institution of marriage?