A soon-to-be divorced dad has to have The Talk with his 11 year old daughter in the wake of a confusing school sex-ed lesson. Maya (Abigail Breslin) has questions, lots and lots of questions. Her dad Will (Ryan Reynolds) has few easy answers, but the lesson on the fundamentals turns into a lesson on the fundamental messiness not of sex, but of love, as Will weaves a bedtime story about the Three Loves of His Life, one of whom (he won't say which, and the names will be changed) is Maya's mom.
Interwoven with Will's tale is that of another William, ex-president Clinton, which is an early clue that *Definitely, Maybe* will be a story of great expectations and great disappointment, high ideals and disillusionment, on both the political and personal fronts. There is plenty of uncynical comic sweetness and romance in *Definitely, Maybe*, but writer-director Adam Brooks doses it with enough irresolvably complicated, unsentimental realism to make it all decidedly yet appealingly bittersweet. Happily ever after, Maya already knows, doesn't always happen.
It all starts when Will, full of hope and political zeal, leaves Wisconsin, and his blond college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks), to go to New York to work for the Clinton campaign, back in 1992. Some time between Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky, Will meets Summer (Rachel Weisz), a sultry, slightly dangerous would-be writer in love with a much older, crankier journalist (Kevin Kline), and April (Isla Fisher), the apolitical, free-spirited, slightly kooky redhead who collects copies of *Jane Eyre*. Although each woman starts out as an archetype, they are ultimately distinguishable by more than their hair color, and their characters fill out quite nicely, even while Will remains something of a cipher. Breslin (*Little Miss Sunshine*) is the fourth woman in Will's life, and provides a lively counterpoint to Will, keeping his character honest, and preventing him from lapsing into self-pity and blaming. *Definitely, Maybe* is not the kind of movie in which the Wise Child is allowed to be utterly cynical about adult relationships, and so Will's task is to impart his tale of failed romance without shattering his daughter's faith in the possibility of love and romantic bliss.
Maya's task is to figure out which Miss Right turns out to be Mrs. Mom, but they're all good candidates, and *Definitely, Maybe* is refreshingly unchauvinistic in the way it doesn't turn any of them into harpies or homicidal maniacs. None of them are perfect, but none turns out to be fatally flawed in either, although it is clear that Will doesn't know any of them as well as he should, and that, coupled with uncannily bad timing on his part, makes his path to True Love (at least for a while), fairly strewn with obstacles and underutilized engagement rings.
*Definitely, Maybe* is, for all its sweetness and honesty, a little bland, a little too warm when it could stand a touch more hot and cold. But it's still smart and engaging and truthful enough about the confusing, chancy precariousness of love, with all its hazards and rewards, to count as a refreshing change of pace from what passes for romance and comedy, and romantic comedy, these days.