Breath coming in bursts, a pack of paparazzi, reporters and assorted onlookers stood on the red carpet at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Opening Night and prepared for the eagerly anticipated arrival of stars like Abigail Breslin, Ryan Reynolds, Dennis Franz and Alan Thicke – yes, that’s right, Alan Thicke.
Unfortunately for fans of the great show-gone-by “Growing Pains,” the press tip sheet lied. Alan Thicke did not grace the red carpet that cold night last Thursday. But Reynolds, Breslin and Franz were there, as were “Definitely, Maybe” co-stars Liane Balaban and Derek Luke, and the film’s director Adam Brooks. George Hickenlooper, who directed last year’s opening night film “Factory Girl” and Academy Award-nominated Shohreh Aghdashloo were also in attendance, despite the downpour going on just outside the Arlington entryway.
All in all, the arrivals section of the evening was short, with the stars traversing the covered carpet in almost no time at all. Breslin in fact was whisked right through, scarcely stopping to acknowledge the crowd on the other side of the railings separating the stars from the common folk. In her rain boots and jeans, her hair was immaculately curled and her lip gloss lent her young face just a hint of age-appropriate glamour. Seeing Breslin in person was pretty much akin to seeing her on-screen persona, except that up close you could see the unmistakable early signs of pre-teen puberty creeping up on her tiny frame.
Reynolds, on the other hand, presented a much different persona when met in person. In his immaculately tailored black suit and skinny tie, he was as suave and debonair as one would expect from the male lead in a major Hollywood romantic comedy. But the deliberate manner with which he thought out every response to every question and the calm charm with which he approached the attendant reporters was unexpected from an actor who has made his career playing larger-than-life characters in films like “Just Friends,” “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle” and “Van Wilder.” Then again, Reynolds demonstrated his depth as the conflicted cop in “Smokin’ Aces,” and is poised to break out as a major name if “Definitely, Maybe” is successful enough to prove he can carry an entire film on his own.
Either way, Reynolds was thoughtful and intelligent on the carpet, as he quoted Bette Davis in response to the stock question of what advice he has for aspiring actors.
“Take Fountain,” Reynolds said, before quickly quipping, “What, there are no film students here?” after being met with mostly blank stares. “It’s a Bette Davis quote,” he clarified. And indeed, legend has it that when she was asked by an aspiring actress what the best way to get into Hollywood was, Davis once responded, “Take Fountain” in reference to the street between Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevards in Los Angeles.
Joking aside, Reynolds’ advice for aspiring actors was simple. “Keep doing what you’re doing,” Reynolds said. “A lot of people don’t have their own industry where they’re at, but keep going and then you’ll be good, because you’ll have a lot of work under your belt.”
Adam Brooks, who wrote and directed “Definitely, Maybe” had a more sardonic approach to the attendant reporters, as he responded to the similarly stock question of what the best part of making the movie was.
“I have a friend who says the best part of any movie is the day you get the job and the day it’s over,” Brooks said. “But the best part of this job was the cast.”
Indeed, it was the cast that elevated “Definitely, Maybe” from the pedestrian and the predictable to the adorable and the affecting. The film follows advertising consultant Will Hayes (Reynolds) as he tells his daughter the details of his life leading up to his happy ending with her mother. The twist? The happy couple it getting divorced, and Hayes has to deal with the fact that he may not have picked the perfect girl after all. The story is cute, with just enough quirk to distinguish it from the surfeit of similar cinematic fare out there, but without its cast it would be just another sweet, somewhat interesting film that takes predictable plot twists and runs far too long for its own good.
As Liane Balaban – who plays Hayes’ best friend’s significant other throughout the film and who graced the red carpet last Thursday night along with Derek Luke, who plays said best friend Russell – said during her stroll down the carpet “You are in for a romantic comedy that offers some reality. It’s not fluff, it probes deeper and deals with more interesting issues … this is not a sappy movie.”
While the film’s sappiness may be in the eye of the beholder – and this beholder saw plenty of sap to go around – it is true that the stellar cast of “Definitely, Maybe” managed to make a script that could easily have veered too far into the land of cheese into something more tangible, relatable and enjoyable. As Hayes, Reynolds utilizes his usual boyish charm and good looks, but with an added element of unexpected depth and a surprising amount of solid, believable emotion. As his adorable daughter, Abigail Breslin is her usual precocious prepubescent self.
And, as the string of women who comprise Hayes’ romantic past and present, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz and Elizabeth Banks take characters that could easily have become simple stereotypes – the apathetic bohemian, the independent journalist who picks her career over her love life and the wholesome college sweetheart, respectively – and turn them into realistic, relatable characters who exhibit the kind of emotional depth the film so desperately needs to stay grounded. Other star standouts in “Definitely, Maybe” include Kevin Kline’s Nicholson-esque performance as an aging, debaucherous writer, Luke’s turn as a solid second-banana and Kevin Corrigan as the overworked political consultant who helps give Hayes his big break on the 1992 Clinton campaign.
All in all, “Definitely, Maybe” is a sweet movie with a standout cast, which does a fantastic job of elevating what could otherwise be an all-too-familiar film into something that manages to somehow be both sweet and sincere. It may not be the most innovative movie in the world, but it’s definitely both enjoyable and entertaining, and what more could you ask of a movie whose release is specifically timed to coincide with Valentine’s Day?