Friday Film Reflection: Definitely, Maybe
Disappointed by the recent political drama The Ides of March, Alyssa Rosenberg recommends instead the 2008 movie Definitely, Maybe, which she describes as a “romantic comedy that’s secretly the best political movie in quite some time.” I took her advice and was well rewarded.
At first Definitely, Maybe seems like one step above a gimmick movie: Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds), when picking up his 10 year old daughter Maya from school, encounters the pandemonium of befuddled children and tongue-tied parents reacting to the school day’s world-altering lesson about the birds and the bees. “We need to talk,” Maya says.
Maya wants to know all about how her parents met and fell in love. The matter is urgent for her, first because of what she learned at school, and second because her parents are getting a divorce. She pesters her father until he gives in, partially, by agreeing to tell of series of romantic stories and leaving it to Maya to guess which one is about her mother.
This sets up what turns out to be an insightful and observant story about American politics. Hayes, you see, began his career working for the Clinton campaign, and because the women he’s loved and lost have, in one way or another, entered his life as a political operative, his stories to Maya bring to light the nitty-gritty of political campaigns. We see Will stock toilet paper, lash out against a troublesome stapler, fail miserably at convincing prospective donors that Clinton is an okay guy, succeed at selling tables at a major fundraising event, and learn to deal gracefully with complications and pending disasters. We also watch and feel for him as he struggles to balance his personal life with his professional obligations: for example, with how he has to respond when his current girlfriend, a political journalist, tells him that she’s publishing a negative story about his boss.
Definitely, Maybe is a fun and funny movie about the excitement, hope, and disappointment of politics. I particularly liked Will’s knee-jerk reactions to Clinton’s infidelities and lies. It’s not dark and satirical like Alexander Payne’s brilliant Election, another well-disguised political movie, but it takes such care with bringing to life the day-to-day conflicts of political campaigns that it equals any politics-themed movie I can remember seeing.