Indie darling Greta Gerwig plays a single woman who longs for a baby in a Rebecca Miller film that comes from the Woody Allen school of New York City angst
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore
Directed by: Rebecca Miller
Written by: Rebecca Miller and Karen Rinaldi
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Running time: 92 minutes
By Jay Stone
In Maggie’s Plan — a sort of hipster romantic comedy that looks like something Woody Allen might have cobbled together in one of his slower years — Greta Gerwig plays Maggie, a single woman who’s never been in a serious relationship that lasted more than six months.
We know this because that’s exactly what she says in the film’s opening line: Maggie’s Plan is a talky love story about people searching for authenticity in the world of New York City academia, and in a hurry to establish the ground rules. The talk isn’t all that clever, but it’s easy to be fooled because it’s being said by attractively screwball people in the streets of Manhattan and orchestrated to sprightly music.
Maggie wants to have a baby, and so she take a modern shortcut: she’ll get an old friend, now in the food business (“the pickle salesman?,” someone asks and she replies, “No, he’s a pickle entrepreneur,”) to donate his sperm to the cause. But shortly after the insertion, Maggie meets a more suitable match: John (Ethan Hawke), a troubled writer and teacher of “ficto-cultural anthropology” at the local university. John happens to be married, but his Danish-born wife Georgette (Julianne Moore, with an indeterminate Northern European accent that sounds like what might happen if Marlene Dietrich moved to Copenhagen) is cold, unemotional and slightly batty, and therefore leaveable.
Things are not so easy, however, as these people are about to find out. Director Rebecca Miller, adapting a story by Karen Rinaldi, sets up the comic interactions, then abandons most of the messier business. She pushes the story ahead three years so we can see John becoming increasingly self-involved — writers, we are given to understand, are bundles of impractical need — and Maggie wondering if she’s done the right thing, despite an adorable (and scene-stealing) daughter. Perhaps John would be happier going back to Georgette. Is there a way to undo the past?
It’s exactly the sort of first-world conundrum that Woody might want to examine — it’s his brand of ficto-cultural anthropology, so to speak — and it has the same on-the-surface sheen of boho accouterments (work boots worn without socks, children enrolled in eurhythmics classes) that enliven its loopy narrative. Loosely structured, it’s an enjoyably, almost aggressively, independent film — free of both the traditional beats of a Hollywood rom-com and of the notions of a predictable narrative arc — set in cool apartments and Greenwich Village parks where everyone tries to come to terms with what kind of life they want to live. Miller (The Ballad of Jack and Rose) doesn’t seem as interested in exactly who these people are, or why, as she is in their unlikely attempts to achieve balance.
It’s saved from earnestness by several factors. One is Gerwig, a kind of millennial-era Diane Keaton who — as she did in the estimable Francis Ha — conveys a nice combination of sweetness and off-kilter suffering. “There’s something so pure about you,” says Georgette. “And a little bit stupid.” Georgette is a fine one to speak: in Moore’s performance, she’s a comic book villainess (“Leaf, leaf, leaf my house,” she says when exasperated by a visitor) who becomes someone a little more measured, and believable, by the end.
Also around are Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph as Maggie’s best friends. We’ve seen them in these roles before — they’re both in danger of becoming the wallpaper of this kind of made-in-a-loft cinema — but Hader is an especially refreshing corrective to the movie’s air of privileged naval-gazing. With the mad, intense gaze of someone whose eyes are perhaps a couple of millimetres too close together, he’s like a monocular truth-teller from another planet.
Near the end, John says, “It just seems so unreal,” which is pretty accurate, all things considered. Maggie’s Plan is a silly slice of non-life, but it’s an enjoyably faux impersonation of it.
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