Posted by: sulya | 2 September 2011

There Will Definitely, Maybe, be Casualties

I was never into Ryan Reynolds until he started playing romantic leads with dry and kooky comedic timing.  I wonder why it took the powers that be so long to cast him that way given his full head of hair and tall broad, dimpled jawness, but what I couldn’t see coming at all was that he would be in a film that unhinges me every time I see it.  And, perhaps, it wouldn’t unhinge me the way it does if I were not a divorced woman in love with a divorced man whose combined offspring total four…  But I am that woman and so the film “Definitely, Maybe” punches me in the gut with remarkable precision.

For those who have not seen it, it is about a man in his mid-thirties getting a divorce whose appx 7 year-old daughter insists that he tell her the story of how he and her mom met.  It turns out it’s a rather long story and the daughter is forced to guess which woman in her father’s story is actually her mother because he changes people’s names.  It’s easy to think, “what is he doing telling a girl this young this story about the foibles and failures of fidelity inherent to a small group of adults?”  But the answer is equally simple.

She asked.

With her whole self she is trying to understand her story and the only way to do that, at this time when her parents are choosing to part ways in all ways save those that concern her, is to understand her father’s stories… Her mother’s…

Thomas King says that all we are is our stories and I am more and more convinced that he’s right.  We live in a perpetual fog when we don’t know the important stories of our lives, missing pieces, trying to fill them with pieces of things that will never fit.  We make bad decisions because we often tell ourselves awful stories about ourselves or wind up internalizing the awful stories others have told about us.  The little girl in “Definitely, Maybe” asks for a story because she needs it and regardless of it being, perhaps, a bit too PG-14, her father tells it to her because on a subconscious level he understands that need.  You can judge this man – and Hollywood for making the daughter a bit precocious (though I now too have a precocious daughter so perhaps the characterization is not that far off base) – but unless you’ve ever been divorced with a child, you won’t be judging him fairly.  With divorce, by necessity, the story changes and the order in which stories need to be told changes too.  It isn’t easy or fun or fair – especially to the children – but it’s the way it is.

The part that gets me every time though is that at a tense point, Reynold’s character addresses his daughter’s upset by telling her the story does have a happy ending to which she responds with even more desperation.  How can it have a happy ending if her parents are getting divorced?  It’s a fair question isn’t it?  So fair.  So reasonable, especially in a culture which more-often-than-not fades out at first kisses and wedding bells ringing to the tune of forever and ever amen.  But the answer is that she is the happy ending.  And that is not saccharine tripe.  That is the truth. The daughter in “Definitely, Maybe” and my son and my other half’s sons and daughter in our story, they are all the happy ending to one part of our stories  and an exquisite beginning to so many other stories that as parents we only hope to remain a part of for as long as possible.

But God, it’s messy.  And this movie knocks me on my ass because it represents the mess fairly if not necessarily in a way that will feel accurate to all who live a story of divorce because all stories of divorce are so different.  It goes right inside me with every complicated and difficult exchange between that father and that daughter because I’ve had conversations just as complicated, just as difficult and my son is only just six.

I’m going to get a kleenex now.


Poster borrowed from here


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