This story structure is dubious at best and too cute by half, and while straight women and gay men might disagree, I find Reynolds' Will too cute by half as well. (His idea of low-key charm is my idea of smirky self-regard.) Given these issues, it's miraculous the film works at all. But it does; it gets better and richer as it goes. Brooks doesn't follow most of the predictable templates, and he's both wry and clear-eyed about the early Clinton years. We get to know Will as a young, idealistic x Democrat (there goes half the audience right there) who leaves his college sweetheart (Elizabeth Banks) back in Madison so he can join the Arkansas governor's campaign in New York City. Brooks remembers what it's like to be young, fervent and on the loose. As Will and his fellow campaign workers discuss the president-to-be ("He gets women," says one, pre-Monica Lewinsky), the atmosphere is heady, a little delusional -- very much in period.
Will's lovers include Isla Fisher, who plays an office worker who doesn't give a rip about politics. Rachel Weisz plays an opportunistic, charismatic journalist living with her former thesis adviser (a gruff and lovely turn by Kevin Kline), but not for long. When these characters arrive on the scene, the film comes to life.
Like so many makers of romantic comedy before him, Brooks plants one foot in Hollywood (the stuff with the kid) and the other on planet Earth (the scenes with Weisz and Kline, among others, which are unusually well-acted).
Ryan's contribution is one of affable skill in search of more distinctive qualities. Yet you stick with the film; there's just enough truth and wit amid the contrivances to reward your attention. We learn something from every relationship, the film says.
And sometimes we're asked to reassess the lessons.
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