Maggie's Plan (2015) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PR for language and some sexuality
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Mina Sundwall, Jackson Frazer, Ida Rohatyn
Small role: Wallace Shawn
Director: Rebecca Miller
Screenplay: Rebecca Miller (based on an unpublished novel by Karen Rinaldi)
Review published June 6, 2016
Rebecca Miller (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, Personal Velocity) writes and directs this mostly lighthearted Woody Allen-esque relationship comedy. Greta Gerwig (Mistress America, Frances Ha) plays liberal arts college advisor Maggie Hardin, 30-something in age, neurotic in stage, feeling her biological clock is ticking in thunderous tones, thinking it best to go the route of artificial insemination, given her history with men seems to be little more than a bunch of relationships that fail before the six-month period. Through a clerical mishap at the school she works in, she's introduced to adjunct ficto-critical anthropology professor John Harding (Hawke, Born to Be Blue), who immediately becomes colleagues and even fast friends with her, then more. Trouble is, he's married with two kids. Flash forward about three years and Maggie has the child she's dreamed of having in daughter Lily, and a husband in John, who left his more successful anthropology professor wife Georgette (Moore, Mockingjay Part 2) and two kids to pursue a life with Maggie, she's no longer sure she wants to be with. Unable to leave things in an untidy state by just walking away from the marriage, Maggie's titular plan is to try to manipulate the romantic reunion of John with Georgette so that they can all come away with how things should have been.
Story contrivances emerge from time to time, something Woody Allen could generally escape from through setting up a whimsical tone, yet Miller attempts to replicate with less success, especially in the film's predictable final moments. These narrative shortcuts don't break the film, but they also seem so convenient that they take you out of the story for a moment to reflect on how convenient things seem to occur. Luckily, overcoming the weaker elements of the story are the quality actors involved, with Gerwig showing range beyond being just an irrepressible, idiosyncratic oddball, while Hawke, playing a role in which one isn't entirely sure if he's a self-centered jerk looking for just the right woman to feed his ego or a seasoned realist when it comes to marriage, shows that relationship comedies with serious underpinnings are right in his wheelhouse, with one of his best character moments outside of Jesse, coincidentally also a struggling novelist with relationship issues, in the Before series. Julianne Moore is likeably amusing as Georgette, even if the thick Germanic accent she sports (she's playing Danish), somewhat reminiscent of her turn as Maude in The Big Lebowski if she were doing an impression of Madeline Kahn (doing an impression of Marlene Dietrich) as Lili von Shtupp from Blazing Saddles, isn't completely convincing, while "SNL"-alums Bill Hader (The Angry Birds Movie) and Maya Rudolph (Sisters) chip in with the off-the-cuff humor you've come to know and love from them in smaller roles as Maggie's married friends and confidantes.
Maggie's Plan take a decidedly non-judgmental look at people in committed relationships, examining the search for happiness as something everyone involve is striving for, though it is astute enough to realize that humans are flawed and our well-meaning attempts to resolve situations with as little hurt as possible for all parties often results in the opposite effect happening. Though the intellectualism of the educated characters from New York certainly will earn the Woody Allen comparisons, Rebecca Miller's firmer understanding of the millennial generation is something that Allen could never capture with any authenticity in his more recent films set in the modern day, which give Maggie's Plan the creative distance necessary to be enough of its own thing to respect on its own terms. While it feels familiar in tone and delivery, in its unique narrative through-line and refreshingly unconventional characterizations, Maggie's Plan is decidedly different than just about anything else out there in the world of rom-coms.
©2016 Vince Leo