Writer, director, and producer Rebecca Miller (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee) presents audiences with another dope-ishly quirky, New York Greta Gerwig in her most recent film Maggie’s Plan. Based on the story by Karen Rinaldi, the film stars Julianne Moore, Ethan Hawke, Bill Hader, and Maya Rudolph as they charmingly unfold the tale of Maggie (Gerwig), a New School professor in want of a baby. What begins as a seemingly generic romance - at first glance it looks as though the trailer tells all - evolves into a comedic delight guaranteed to provide a few laughs.
Maggie’s Plan opens awkwardly. It’s unclear, at first, if this is going to be another Frances Ha (2012) or Greenberg (2010) performance by Gerwig. Maggie’s retro attire and library-esque apartment indicates that idea. But as the story moves, it’s clear she is neither clumsy, nor lost in the big city. Gerwig plays a capable, early middle-aged professor looking to start her own family with or without a partner. The audience learns early on that Maggie grew up under a similar circumstance and sees no qualm in pursuing the same path. However, her well thought-out plan is soon disrupted when she bumps into and begins a friendship with fellow New School professor John (Hawke).
The film doesn’t dawdle along with the budding romance like other traditional stories about affairs. Viewers learn the necessary bits that keep the story moving. John is a professor and aspiring novelist unhappily married to an intelligent, success-centered Columbia University professor Georgette, played hilariously by Moore. When Maggie and John admit their love, the film jumps a couple of years and places us in the post-divorce/newly-married-with-a-toddler situation of Maggie, John, and Georgette. When Maggie acknowledges her placement within their marriage, an uncomfortable situation where she finds herself pulling all of the financial, parental, and household weight, she plots a divorce that will leave all parties feeling satisfied. As any good story goes though, Maggie experiences a few bumps along the way, making the movie less of a feel-good romance and more of a fun, light-hearted comedy.
However, in spite of its pleasantries, the film has its frustrations. Although there are three main characters, the majority of the film is centered on aimless, middle-aged, pouty John who bounces from one marriage to the next. He pursues Maggie because she praises his writing aspirations, feeling misunderstood and belittled by Georgette. Then a few years later, after Maggie’s careful planning, he’s directed into Georgette’s lap and gets comfortable with her overwhelming knowledge of the person that he is, never quite taking the time to figure that out himself. He’s a lapdog. Normally that would be fine if Maggie and Georgette weren’t so obsessed with training him. We’re left wondering why either successful, intelligent lady would want John in the first place. He’s unable to care for his children, finish a book, or take accountability for his part in both deteriorating marriages. But that’s Maggie’s character. As her best friend Tony (Bill Hader) claims, she’s unable to grow up and divorce her husband like a normal adult.
Despite the film’s focus, both Moore and Gerwig’s performances make tolerating John worthwhile. Maggie’s Plan highlights Moore’s comedic capabilities, which we unfortunately don’t get to see very often. And Gerwig proves that her quirky attitude is not limited to one role but can change and morph to showcase her talents.
Ultimately, Maggie’s Plan is less about the dynamics of marriage, affairs, and children and more a humorous tale of a controlling woman looking to sweep up the accidental mess she made during a significant period of her life. It implies that few people, if any at all, have it completely together. Maggie’s Plan is meant to be humorous, and it passes as such if viewers walk into the theater expecting light heartedness. Its humor, performances, and on occasion its shared experience of sorting through love make it a worthwhile watch.