Definitely, Maybe

Starring Ryan Reynolds and Abigail Breslin. Rated PG.

Star Ryan Reynolds and director-writer Adam Brooks (Invisible Circus), both Canadian, here team with the British producers of Love Actually to make a quintessentially American romantic comedy, right down to its confused politics, both literal and sexual.

Impressively toning down his comic side, Reynolds plays Will Hayes, a soon-to-be-single Manhattan dad pushed by his preteen daughter (Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin) to explain how his marriage came about and why it ended. The movie is framed around his narrative, with names and some details changed, so that she—and we—can’t really tell which of the women will turn out to be mommy. From what we see of his depiction—starting in 1992, when he left Wisconsin to work on Bill Clinton’s presidential bid—he leaves a lot more in than any third grader should hear.

For those keeping score, the main candidates are his college sweetheart (Elizabeth Banks), a campaign colleague (Isla Fisher), and a neurotic journalist played by the U.K.’s Rachel Weisz, going all New Yawk on us. The best thing about Weisz’s character is that it comes attached to one played by Kevin Kline, who steals the movie in a few deft scenes as a perpetually soused writing professor.

When Definitely, Maybe relates the protagonist’s saga to the rise and fall and rise of a president who “gets women”, as Will puts it, the movie shows refreshing intelligence and wit. But its overinvestment in sentimental closure undoes the complexity. It’s not enough to show us penguins at the zoo and make us remember that they mate for life; someone has to say it, too. One more quick question for dad: wouldn’t an eight-year-old already know where her parents are from?