Synopsis: In Rebecca Miller’s witty modern romantic comedy MAGGIE’S PLAN, Greta Gerwig portrays Maggie Hardin, a vibrant and practical thirty-something New Yorker working in education, who without success in finding love, decides now is the time to have a child on her own. But when she meets John Harding (Ethan Hawke), an anthropology professor and struggling novelist, Maggie falls in love for the first time and adjusts her plans for motherhood.
Complicating matters, John is in an unhappy marriage with Georgette Harding (Julianne Moore), an ambitious academic who is driven by her work. With some help from Maggie’s eccentric and hilarious best friends, married couple Tony (Bill Hader) and Felicia (Maya Rudolph), Maggie sets in motion a new plan that intertwines their lives and connects them in surprising and humorous ways. Maggie learns that sometimes destiny should be left to its own devices.
Maggie’s Plan 6.5
eyelights: its basic premise.
eyesores: the main cast. the dialogues.
‘Maggie’s Plan’ is a 2015 romantic dramedy by Rebecca Miller. Set in New York City, and starring Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore, it tells the story of a love triangle that begins when its protagonist, Maggie, decides to have a child via artificial insemination but falls in love with a married colleague instead.
But, no worries, Maggie’s got another plan.
And when that one doesn’t turn out quite as expected, she has yet another.
Although it begins as a subtly humourous Woody Allen-esque picture, with Maggie (Gerwig) being self-reflective about her romantic history, and John (Hawke) commenting about the disconnect within his family, ‘Maggie’s Plan’ quickly becomes tonally uneven, hobbled by clunky dialogues and ham-fisted performances.
The primary issue is the cast and their characters:
- Greta Gerwig comes off all wooden, as though she’s just returned from the dentist’s chair. Her performance reminded me of a cross between Ellen Degeneres in her early sitcom days and Helen Slater in her debut; she’s just really inarticulate and awkward, bludgeoning her lines.
Maggie is a bit strange because she initially comes off seeming self-aware enough, but immediately makes stupid judgment calls like choosing her sperm donor based on his aptitude for math – ignoring objections from her best friend. Meanwhile, other characters call her sweet but dumb.
- Ethan Hawke tries to evoke the freshness and charm that once won people’s hearts, but these days he comes off as slightly creepy – or at the very least anything but magnetic. Look, I was never a fan of his, but I found him passable in the Richard Linklater films – especially because of the material.
The material isn’t nearly as strong here, and John appears to be a bit flighty here, self-absorbed, and not especially interesting. Some of the other teachers talk about him having a reputation for seducing his former colleagues, but c’mon! With this level of charm and creep factor, there’s no way.
- I really like Julianne Moore; in my mind, she can do no wrong. Well, this is a notable exception: Here she takes on a weird “Danish” accent that makes her sound like a gay East European. She emotes fine, but comes off as a bad caricature nonetheless, like something out of ‘The Big Lebowski‘.
But not Maude.
Georgette is married to John and she is utterly self-absorbed, even more so than he is, to the degree that there is no warmth emitting from her. They’re both intellectuals on the speaking circuit, but she is also an eccentric, a fashion trainwreck in fuzzy sweaters and shitty high-heeled shoes. She’s a bore.
Basically, none of them are especially likeable, let alone endearing; you couldn’t possibly care less about any of their fates. Heck, they didn’t even collide in ways that make them interesting. Further to that, there was no heat between them, although Maggie and John looked (in montage form) like they enjoyed each other’s company.
So we were off to a pretty bad start. Even if the material had been stellar, we would have nonetheless been hard-pressed to watch these charmless people. But the sad reality is that the script is no better: It fluctuates between angsty drama and quirky comedy in contrived ways, as though Miller was scrambling to get a few laughs.
For instance, there’s a particularly ghastly scene when Maggie is trying to inseminate herself in the bathtub, using a most generous donation from her friend Guy. Naturally, someone buzzes her apartment, and she decides to answer the door. See Maggie make her way to the door, crab-like and spill her baby batter on the floor.
Um… because, when you’re in the middle of the most important moment in your life, you allow yourself to get interrupted. And you act like a spazz.
The best humour comes from truth, not from contrivances. In this case, I just can’t fathom that any person would be stupid enough to do what Maggie did. Including her. Because, even though she’s described by others as a bit soft in the head, she seems perfectly fine. So this played mostly as a ‘Three’s Company’-type situation.
You know… exaggerated to the Nth degree.
Thankfully, it’s the worst scene of the bunch. But there are plenty of absurd moments that don’t have a ring of truth, including the ending, which finds Maggie’s daughter suddenly having an interest in math – which leads Maggie to immediately think of Guy. What? Could he be the father, after all (you know math being a rare interest)?
Well, lo and behold, Guy comes over the hill, to skate at exactly the same rink as Maggie.
Look, there are aspects that I liked, such as Maggie’s aforementioned self-reflections and John’s take on his family life. I also rather enjoyed that Georgette moved in with Maggie with the kids and that they got to know each other; it’s a very nice, supportive dynamic. It was very mature. And Bill Hader is excellent as Tony, Maggie’s best friend.
But, ultimately, ‘Maggie’s Plan’ is not at all convincing. And, unfortunately, the cast were simply not up to the task of selling us on any of it. So the end result is a movie that feels half-baked, like it could have been a sweet treat had some of its ingredients been choice, and a genuine classic if all of it had been tops. Alas, this plan wasn’t fool-proof.
Date of viewing: June 18, 2016