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You never know what sex ed classes might lead to.
In the case of Definitely, Maybe, one such class leads 11-year-old Maya Hayes to ask Will, her perplexed political consultant father, some very embarrassing questions—about sex and about love. Just why did you date so many women before you met my mother, she wants to know. And why on earth are you and Mom getting divorced now?
Will, it seems, has some explaining to do.
Maya demands to hear all about Will's love life, from the time he graduated college to the present day. Reluctantly, Will agrees—but only under the condition that he'll change the names of the leading ladies. It'll be up to Maya to figure out which woman in the story is really her mom.
"I like it," Maya says. "It's like a love-story mystery."
And so they—and we—embark on a retrospective narrative of Will's three epic romances. They feature a trio of veritable Aphrodites: Emily, Will's perky blond college sweetheart; Summer, a sultry reporter whose "type" also includes other women and 60-year-old men; and April, a one-time political campaign copy girl who likes Nirvana and collects copies of Charlotte Brontë's classic novel Jane Eyre.
What Maya learns, and Will rediscovers, is that love—not to mention sex—can be very complicated.
Definitely, Maybe is ostensibly the story of Will's past loves. But it's obvious that the real love of his life is his daughter. The same is also true of Maya's mother. Even when her parents hover on the brink of finalizing their divorce, they go to the zoo with Maya, where she promptly informs them that penguins mate for life. (Eleven-year-olds are not known for their subtlety.)
Despite some significant faults, this film deals with the sobering reality of divorce with a sense of regret and sadness. No couple, says Will, walks down the aisle with the expectation of splitting up later. Definitely, Maybe realistically depicts how divorce hurts everyone involved, especially the kids.
Still, Will tries to convince his daughter that at least part of this sad story has a happy ending:
"What is it?" Maya asks, tears in her eyes.
"You," he says.
Though Maya is properly shocked when she hears her father's whole sordid tale ("I can't believe you smoked, drank and were such a slut"), she still accepts him ("I still love you").
Will might not do much maturing as it relates to his relationships, he does exhibit a bit of ethical growth before the tale's completely told. When his friends readily cut President Bill Clinton some slack when news of his affair with Monica Lewinski breaks, Will is disgusted by the idea of a politician not telling the truth. (Months earlier, he asked Summer to can a revealing story about a local politician Will is campaigning for.)
Will and his women operate in an almost completely secular world. In a sense, Maya's on-again, off-again "conversion" to vegetarianism and April's stint as an executive at Amnesty International are as close as we get here. When Will knocks on Summer's door for the first time, her then-boyfriend answers it and asks Will if he's a Jehovah's Witness.
The plot gets rolling when Will picks Maya up from school and finds the place in an uproar. Boys—eyes wide, mouths practically drooling—are reading sexual descriptions aloud from a school textbook. One horrified girl takes her mother to task: "Do you have sex with Daddy? You do, don't you? I hate you!"
All of that is an apt precursor to the sex-obsessed journey viewers are about to embark upon.
We never actually see Will have sex with anyone—but sexual content and explicit dialogue is pervasive, and it's more than implied that he sleeps with at least two of them. One of Will's girlfriends admits to having sex with his roommate. Two, we learn, had a lesbian tryst with each other—a relationship detailed in a steamy diary Will reads aloud.
After a comment about ripping off his clothes, we see Summer in bed with Will, where she says she wants to spend the entire day. (She's wearing a low-cut nightgown.) Later, Summer informs Will that she's pregnant by another man—who's no longer around. All three women wear tight-fitting, revealing clothing at times. Will kisses each of them—a lot. Indeed, Will occasionally kisses one when he's supposed to be going out with another.
A sixtysomething man who hooks up with one of Will's women walks around with an open robe (audiences don't see any critical anatomy) and talks crassly about sex and his conquests. One of Will's friends refer to "threesomes" and "foursomes." Because Will works for Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, we're "treated" to a recapitulation of Clinton's indiscretions with Lewinsky and Gennifer Flowers via news clips.
When Will initially refuses to talk to Maya about sex, she manipulates him into doing so by repeating the word penis in a public place until an embarrassed Will caves in. Maya graphically parrots her teacher's sex talk back to her father, using multiple anatomical descriptors.
She relates to Will that one of her classmates was an "accident." When he explains what that means, Maya asks, "If they didn't want a baby, why did they have sex?" Will replies that they were just "rehearsing." Evidently she catches on fast, because after Will admits to Maya that he had three serious girlfriends (and other incidental relationships), Maya asks, "What's the boy word for slut?"
April slaps Will twice. Will smashes a liquor bottle in anger. Maya talks about the number of lovelorn folks who jump off the Brooklyn Bridge each year.
Crude or Profane Language
April and Will lob the s-word back and fourth four times. Milder curses include "a--" and "b--ch," the latter coming from Maya. We hear about 15 total misuses of God's and Jesus' names.
Drug and Alcohol Content
We watch Will and April buy cigarettes at a corner store. Then they smoke together in a romantic scene meant to illustrate their growing attraction, but one that also showcases the supposed sexiness of lighting up. That said, both he and April quit the habit by film's end. Summer's sexagenarian, who's a hard-drinking chain-smoker, doesn't quit, and we see him in a hospital bed asking Summer if she can get him a cigarette. He also compels Will to toss back lots of whisky with him.
Most of the time, though, Will needs no encouragement. He drinks regularly with friends and co-workers at various bars, and they're shown in various stages of intoxication. He gets drunk one night and sits on April's stoop, his eyes glassy and watery.
Other Negative Elements
Will lies to a Democratic donor over the phone, falsely representing himself as an acquaintance of Hillary Clinton. And it's worth noting that his political career doesn't take off until he does so.
Romance movies present a challenging form of entertainment for discerning families. Many of these films, this one included, feature some positive messages about love that, frustratingly, get all mixed up with scads of problematic content.
On that plus side, Definitely, Maybe tells viewers that love can be a very special thing. Add in a truly poignant relationship between a father and his daughter, and there are moments of real emotional depth and substance.
Here's the trap, though: We're undeniably a consumerist culture, and romance movies tend to teach us that to find happiness or love, we must shop around. And if the charm wears off, well, we can always get a refund and start looking for someone else. Will and the women he dates (read: has sex with) look to each other to fill the gaping emotional pits in one another's hearts. They shop for love like they shop for the perfect knickknack for the mantel: someone, somewhere to fit perfectly with the decor. For his part, Will splits with Maya's mother (for reasons we're never told), eventually gaining both his daughter's blessing and the woman whom he believes is really his "true love." This time.
Only it doesn't work that way. We humans aren't brass wall sconces. We're putty, constantly being shaped by the world around us, the Creator above and the loved ones beside us. Love is not a destination, but a process. The more we share with one another, the more we're molded, ever so gradually, into loving vessels.
That sharing, of course, requires commitment. And while Definitely, Maybe understands how important it is for parents to commit to their children, it doesn't recognize that the same unfailing commitment is required of the parents themselves. Because love, at its most beautiful and sacred, can be brutally unromantic. It's about sacrifice, commitment and friendship. People don't really fall in love as much as they work their way there. No maybe about it, on that score Definitely, Maybe definitely misses the mark.
A postscript: The film has one other glaring problem: Maya's immersion in the world and language of adult sexuality. Her sexual banter with her dad is usually played for laughs, but that in no way changes the fact that it is utterly and obviously inappropriate.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Ryan Reynolds as Will Hayes; Abigail Breslin as Maya Hayes; Elizabeth Banks as Emily; Isla Fisher as April; Rachel Weisz as Summer Hartley; Kevin Kline as Hampton Roth
Adam Brooks ( )