21
Sep 09

My Ten Favourite Films Of 2008: 3: Definitely, Maybe

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The worst thing about Definitely, Maybe is its title. Despite it being the only good Oasis album, the Oasis stink permeates the name, possibly warning off the one group of people who really would enjoy it. Something else that might put you off is that its a romantic comedy. And as often bemoaned recently, where have all the good romantic comedies gone? Oh, it was also released for Valentines Day in 2008 (usually a very bad sign – its a date movie for people who NEED date movies), has a kid in it (Oscar nominated Abigail Breslin) and is produced by Working Title, the people who pay for Richard Curtis’s vomitorias. It is no standard rom-com though. For one, the lead character searching for love is a bloke. Secondly he is divorced with a kid. And third, it is brutally honest that happily ever after doesn’t really happen. Oh and fourth, it is the first proper nineties nostalgia film.

Nineties nostalgia seems a bit misplaced in 2008, it seemed all too soon. But the nineties Definitely Maybe (in itself a nineties nostalgic name) leapt upon was framed by the political optimism of the 1992 election and the Clinton campaign. Of course there are cheap gags about big mobile phones, but not only does the film make elections seem exciting (in an election year), but much like the romance in the film it is realistic about the aftermath. Set over a few years, the fallings in and out of love of Ryan Reynolds are mirrored by the slight disillusionment of the politics of the era. The suggestion at the end of the film for Reynolds to not give up on his previous loves is also a perfect parallel to the politics he was also disengaged with. (Of course the film would have worked even more thematically well if Hilary had won the nomination, but in February ’08 that looked likely).

Politics aside, the film is cleverly structured as a mystery story. The mystery being which of Breslin’s three ex-girlfirends became Breslin’s mother. It does require Breslin’s daughter to not know an awful lot about her own mother, and since the mother is alive this seems unlikely, but nevertheless the structure does allow something that approaches real dating for a rom-com. Namely people go out, have fun, stop having fun, fuck up etc etc. Reynolds is probably a bit too good to be true, as are all the women – but give me slightly idealised characters over the usual rom-com madness. Falling over is not shorthand for vulnerability Sandy Bullock / Julia Roberts.

The icing on this unprepossessing cake is that the three women are played by Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz and Elizabeth Banks, an Oscar winner and two of the best comic actresses in Hollywood. OK, the film uses simple shorthand (Blonde, Brunette and Ginger), but the characters are well rounded and thus their decisions all seem quite real. In general it is this blending of plausibility with the fantasy ending of a rom-com has you rooting for a deserved happy ending. Or, as the film acknowledges, another happy beginning. Yes I am a hopelessly sentimental sucker for a good rom-com, but there are very thin on the ground. The best rom-com of the noughties is also currently the best retrospective snapshot of the nineties. I don’t expect the second thing to last, but the first one will. And I’m not alone, if you don’t trust me, trust a couple of eighty year olds.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UzT9ZZSVEA&feature=related

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