In an age where nothing is certain and the political landscape of the United States projects a frankly unnerving global future, comedy is very much welcome. From the pen of Rebecca Miller (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, The Ballad of Jack and Rose), comes Maggie’s Plan. The titular Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is full of plans. Initially, she plans to become a single mother with the help of a local artisan pickle farmer, aptly named Guy (Travis Fimmel). Maggie’s plan hits a snag when she falls for John (Ethan Hawke), a ficto-critical anthropologist. (Yes, really. Fictocriticism is a thing. A postmodern, experimental, often feminist style of writing, as defined by Wikipedia.)
John is married to Georgette (Julianne Moore), a brilliant professor at Columbia with whom he has two children, but the union is failing miserably. When John leaves his wife for Maggie and they get married, Maggie soon realises she may have made a mistake. Thus, her new plan becomes about getting her husband to leave her for his ex-wife, with the ex-wife’s co-operation.
In theory, it may sound less than great, but on screen this is a feel-good movie with elements of Woody Allen to boot. Julianne Moore largely carries the film with an entertainingly strong Danish accent (mistakenly believed to be German by a number of people, including yours truly) and excellent comedic timing. Fans of The Big Lebowski will be happy to see Moore return to the comedy genre, one of many strings in her artistic bow. It is a credit to Moore and the director, Rebecca Miller that the character of Georgette was not made into a nihilistic bitch and instead is relatable and likable, whilst maintaining a sarcastic, caustic side to the character. Moore has frequently worked with lesser scripts, yet she is always consistent. Maggie’s Plan is a reminder that she is outstanding when given the right material.
Ethan Hawke plays the husband of both women very well in that his John is a somewhat vapid, selfish and naïve man. The ending of his first marriage appears plagued with the combination of his characters simplistic jejunity, matched by Georgette’s difficult temperament. The second attempt runs into trouble when his selfishness collides with Maggie’s idealistic nature. In both cases, his children seem to understand more than he does about what is happening.
Greta Gerwig provides enough likability and humour for the audience to want Maggie’s plan to succeed. As with Julianne Moore’s portrayal, it is encouraging to see two women essentially leading a film without turning on each other. Gerwig plays Maggie as a woman who believes she has everything in her life under control – until she doesn’t. Making the character as relatable as possible to a large audience is a skill Gerwig handles with elán (previously in To Rome With Love) and it works extremely well here. There’s also appearances by Saturday Night Live regulars Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader to look out for, as well as The Princess Bride’s Wallace Shawn (Inconceivable!).
Overall, Maggie’s Plan is proof that subtle comedy can be done extremely well. As we hurtle towards potential oblivion, it can be comforting to know that there are plenty of enjoyable ways of switching off, at least for ninety-eight minutes.
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Michelle Audrey 2016