Everyone Has Reversals

Story Lessons, Big and Small (Warning: Spoilers!)

March 02, 2009

Absolutely, For Sure

It's been months since I saw Definitely, Maybe. I knew I'd blog about it eventually, but it's taken me all this time to really articulate why I think it's a strong, fresh romantic comedy.

I thought -- is it because I like all 4 of the leads? Ryan Reynolds has grown on me a lot, but the real gems of the film are the women: Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz, and Isla Fisher? Great choices.

Then I thought, hmm, maybe it's all the wonderful grounding details in the story. Example: we spend part of the time in the '90s, while Ryan works on Clinton's presidential campaign. Hadn't seen that before, and yet it felt like a character detail rather than a hey-we're-travelling-in-time gimmick.

But no. I've realized what it is.

This is a romantic comedy structured around a mystery.

The premise: A single dad tells his young daughter about the 3 great loves of his life, and lets his daughter guess which one turned out to be her mother.

While I'm following these love stories -- all with their own nuances and complications -- I'm also, like the daughter, trying to put together the pieces of this puzzle. And I confess, I wasn't totally sure right up until the big reveal.

And the story doesn't even end with that reveal... that'd be too easy.

The fact is, this is where most romantic comedies fail. When non-rom-com-lovers refer to the genre, it's as "formulaic" and "predictable". This is because the central plot question is so often "Will this couple get/stay together?". It's almost always a gimme... of course they will!

Definitely, Maybe opts instead for a central question with real suspense. Which woman is mom?

How can any of us go back to the conventional faux-structure, now that we've seen this?

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