Careful what you wish for...

July 8, 2016

 

Maggie’s Plan (M) 

Rating: 4 / 5

 

Ethical, kind, sweet and ‘just a little bit stupid’, Maggie—the titular character in Maggie’s Plan—is the kind of person you can’t help falling in love with.


The same can, perhaps, be said about Greta Gerwig, the actor who plays Maggie. Coming to prominence in recent years in films such as Francis Ha and Mistress America, Gerwig has found her niche playing the self-absorbed, yet immensely amiable, young urban woman, whose quest for love ends up more tangled and thorny than a row of untended rose bushes.  


And you’ll find more of the same in Maggie’s Plan. When we meet our heroine, she’s announcing that she’s about to start a family on her own due to the dearth of suitable men. While her well-meaning best friends Tony (Bill Hader) and Felicia (Maya Rudolph) try to steer her away from the idea, Maggie continues with her plan to find a sperm donor and fulfil her ‘destiny’.


But just as she’s about to enlist the help of prospective donor Guy (Travis Fimmel), Maggie finds herself being drawn to John (Ethan Hawke), a brilliant, if self-deprecating lecturer on something called ‘ficto-critical anthropology’ and aspiring novelist, who also happens to be unhappily married to the equally brilliant, yet controlling, critical theorist Georgette (Julianne Moore).


John does leave Georgette for Maggie and the two have the much-wanted child of Maggie’s dreams. For a year or so they seem to be playing happy families, with John finally writing the book Maggie knew was in him and Maggie holding the fort, which includes a full-time job and part-time parenting of John and Georgette’s two children, as well as her own. 


However, the saying ‘careful what you wish for’ comes to mind as the cracks in this pleasant domestic scene begin to show. After much soul-searching, the ever-improvising Maggie comes up with a new plan—to get John and Georgette back together. 


There’s more than a hint of Woody Allen and Noah Baumbachin in Maggie’s downtown New York existential kind of narrative. On the surface, anyway, writer/director Rebecca Miller gives us a familiar setting—Manhattan under the cover of snow, the cramped-yet-chic New York apartments and smug, postmodern hipster philosophy (I mean, what even is ‘ficto-critical anthropology’?)—but she also seems to dig a little deeper than her male counterparts.


And so it is that while the characters seem to be acting from a selfish vantage point (which, on one level, they are), they’re each allowed, indeed, encouraged, to be vulnerable. For example, it’s only when we see Maggie and John’s relationship unravelling that we’re afforded deeper glimpses into what makes them tick, and both Gerwig and Hawke really throw themselves into the fray. 


Miller also knows that female friendships are complex affairs that can spring up from the most obtuse of origins, and we see this between Maggie and Georgette. The scenes between them are deliciously ambivalent.


Perhaps a touch too introspective to be a laugh-out-loud comedy (although Moore’s Icelandic turn is pure unadulterated genius, and both Hader and Rudolph are uniformly good, as is Fimmel), Maggie’s Plan is, however, more than satisfyingly droll. 


Highlight: the understated humour 

Red Flag: some nudity, infidelity and coarse language

 

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