Film Review: 'Maggie’s Plan'
Writer-director Rebecca Miller channels Woody Allen in the slight-but-engaging New York City-set comedy Maggie’s Plan, a diverting if innocuous feature buoyed by some bright performances and general good will.
At the center of it all is Maggie (played by Greta Gerwig), a college art school administrator who “serves as the bridge between art and commerce.”
She’s Miller’s version of a neurotic Woody type, but also the type of female protagonist we so rarely see in mainstream features: headstrong and independent, even if those qualities lead to complications of their own.
We’re thrown in the deep end at the outset: Maggie wants to have a child, and even though she’s got time on her biological clock, she has little faith in her ability to find the right partner and sustain a long-term relationship.
That’s where the socially-awkward Guy (Travis Fimmel) comes in: he’s a one-time classmate who had a knack for math and might have some good genes, so Maggie asks him to be the donor. A scene where she rebuffs his offer to do it “the old-fashioned way” is a delight.
Guy’s a minor character in Maggie’s grand scheme, but I really liked Fimmel (who leads the blockbuster Warcraft, opening next week) in the role: he’s got a timid, soft-spoken Tim Robbins thing going on here, with every line carefully constructed and containing deeper meaning than its face value.
But just as Maggie is about to go through with the artificial route (literally), she happens to fall in love with colleague John Harding (Ethan Hawke) – and the feeling is mutual. Only problem: John is married to German intellectual Georgette (Julianne Moore), with a pair of children.
What initially seems like a familiar setup turns unconventional as the film jumps ahead in time and direction and Maggie’s titular plan comes into full view.
Gerwig – best known, perhaps, for her work with director Noah Baumbach including Frances Ha – is intensely likable, as always, and Hawke breathes some life into what easily could have been a throwaway role.
But the real standout performance here is by Moore as the German-inflected Georgette. She devours every scene she’s in with a flair that’s absent from the rest of the movie, and while her over-the-top performance is out of tune with her surroundings, we’re happy to let her chew them up.
In supporting roles, Maggie’s married-couple friends (SNL vets Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph) are wary but supportive. But while the film boasts familiar comic faces and some humorous performances, it rarely rises above the level of mildly amusing – though it sustains that affable quality from beginning to end.
Maggie’s Plan represents something of a low-key departure for director Miller, whose best-known films are the more intense Personal Velocity and The Ballad of Jack and Rose, but it’s a welcome one in a time where smart, adult comedies are a rare sight at the multiplex. It’s been a few year’s since Woody Allen’s last good film, but this one’s a perfectly suitable replacement.