MAGGIE’S PLAN (USA/15A/95mins)
Directed by Rebecca Miller. Starring Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph.
THE PLOT:
Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is determined to become a mother; she feels she is at the right time in her life, even though she has yet to have a meaningful relationship that lasts more than a few months. Maggie plans to inseminate herself with sperm from an acquaintance, but as the date draws near, she becomes friends with fellow teacher and aspiring novelist John (Ethan Hawke), a friendship that turns to something more, destroying John’s marriage to the passionate but self-involved Gerogette (Julianne Moore).
THE VERDICT: The entire plot of ‘Maggie’s Plan’ could be easily dismissed as a film that focuses on truly first world problems, but to do this would be to do the film a disservice. ‘Maggie’s Plan’ looks at the nature of relationships and motherhood in a time when connections are seemingly harder and harder to make.
Greta Gerwig is on fine form as the remarkably unpretentious, but rather controlling Maggie; her performance is light and airy and, like many of us, she gets herself into situations without knowing how to get out of them, and not quite sure how she got there in the first place. Ethan Hawke plays the self-absorbed and perpetually unhappy John, whose marriage is not all that it is cracked up to be and he is sure that he is the gardener to his wife’s more successful career. Julianne Moore brings some levity as the utterly controlling and volatile Georgette, and the central trio are backed up by Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph in smaller roles.
The screenplay, written by Rebecca Miller and Karen Rinaldi feels as though it is heavily inspired by early Woody Allen films, and this is not a bad thing. There is an element of self-involved neuroses to all of the characters, but many of them have a warmth lingering under the surface; a warmth that causes the audience to root for these strange, dysfunctional people. The idea of motherhood is one that challenges many young women today, and it is carefully examined in this almost farcical tale of what to do when you have got your cake and you realise you don’t want it. The dialogue is whip smart and the change of loyalties throughout the film is a joy to behold.
As director, Rebecca Miller makes this subtle, gentle comedy one that asks plenty of questions and answers them as well. The performances from the entire cast are engaging and strong, as well as being relatable and, since many of the characters are completely unaware of their own shortcomings, rather funny. The film is well paced for the first act, but wobbles slightly as a three-year gap struggles to be bridged, but the fallout and absurdity that follows manages to pull the film back into its stride. The wit and humour of the film works well, as does the implication that the entire situation is more than a little ridiculous.
In all, ‘Maggie’s Plan’ is a well written, well acted and well directed look at the actions of self absorbed people to make their lives as close to perfect as possible. The humour is subtle but works well, and although the pacing wobbles from time to time, Hawke, Gerwig and Moore have rarely been better.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    For her fifth feature, Rebecca Miller (AKA Mrs Daniel Day-Lewis) has delivered possibly her best film yet. Comedy drama Maggie’s Plan features a love triangle that gets itself tied up in all kinds of twists, with hugely rewarding results.

    Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is a mature New York student who isn’t particularly interested in relationships or getting married. She just wants to have a baby – the artificial way. Potential sperm donor Guy (Travis Fimmel) is interested in something more though. That’s interrupted by an encounter with the older John (Ethan Hawke), a lecturer in ficto-critical anthropology. He’s also a struggling writer wrestling with his magnum opus, a father to two children and a husband to his apparently monstrous German wife Georgette (Julianne Moore). He quickly becomes quite taken with the independent, flighty Maggie and they have an affair. Fast forward a few years and Maggie and John are now married. Maggie is a mother and living the family life that she always wanted, but there are problems. John is too self-absorbed in his self-described dysfunction to notice though… and he’s been having a lot of contact with Georgette too. And he’s still working on his magnum opus… So, Maggie forms a plan to get John and Georgette back together again as the less harmful way of breaking up…

    Working from a story by Karen Rinaldi, Miller’s script is acutely observational about the nature of love and who we choose to be the objects of our affection. As John puts it at one point to Maggie, love isn’t neat and tidy – it’s messy and is meant to be. People can’t be neatly compartmentalised or live happily ever after. Maybe Maggie is just an idealistic, but she’s more in-tune than John. He lives in his own world, occasionally glancing up to notice the two women swirling around his heart like tempests. The initially ice queen-like Georgette is held back until later in the story, but she comes into her own with an equally relatable story of not being able to communicate with John. The idea of him being framed through the perspective of these two very different women is an amusing one, but it also speaks a lot about how different men and women view relationships.

    The quality cast rise to the challenge of the wonderfully witty and drily funny script with ease. We already know that current indie queen Greta Gerwig can do endearingly quirky in her sleep, but even she finds new shades to cast a spotlight on in her performance. Given a tricky part to pull off, Moore finds some sympathy in her character’s situation. Hawke really digs into his character, making him both complex and a decent family man, while also childish and irresponsible.

    With such a great cast responding to an original and excellent script, there’s barely a foot set wrong by Miller. Her direction is measured and deliberate, concentrating more on character than on events. These characters change over the course of the story, with an arc that feels very satisfying. New York is as much a character too, with many scenes filmed in the snowy Big Apple for added atmospheric effect. Maggie’s Plan is delightful, funny and features great characters that leap off the screen. Highly recommended. ****