Several things conspire to make Definitely, Maybe seem a dicey proposition at first glance. There's the rarely-inspiring presence of Ryan Reynolds, whose film career has, up to now, moved between mediocre comedies and mediocre action and horror films and served mostly as a demonstration of the phenomenon of 'failing up.' There's also the gimmicky nature of the pitch giving off warning signs, as divorcing dad Reynolds tells his daughter Abigail Breslin the story of his life before he got married, shielding names and facts so she can't figure out which of the three women (Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Banks or Rachel Weisz) he knew and loved when he was single came to be her mother. "I like it," Breslin says early in the film, appraising Reynolds's efforts. "It's like a love story-mystery." And even that's a somewhat off-putting moment; Gee, kid, thanks for pointing that out for us.
But Definitely, Maybe, written and directed by Adam Brooks, surprised me as it unfolded, and got around my initial reservations with its mix of good humor and grace. Not only is Reynolds an appealing lead here -- possibly because the boyishness that's undercut his other work is an integral part of his character – but Definitely, Maybe also has some grit and gristle under the glib gimmick of the mommy-mystery hook. As Reynolds explains the long and winding road of what happened and when, Brooks's script mostly doesn't shy away from the tough stuff, and it doesn't paint Reynolds as some perfect, hapless everyman undone by random chance; he makes mistakes, and he pays for them, and he tries to set things right. Reynolds is normally light and charming enough on screen, but there's something new in his performance here, as his inner feelings keep coming into view behind his smile.