Review: Maggie's Plan

A film this sweet and funny shouldn't be overlooked



You met and sparks flew,
He left his wife for you,
But your love has gone out of whack,
And you wonder if you can give him back.

There's the beginning of a potential hit song. Feel free to set it to music. Just give me a co-writer credit. If you need further inspiration, check out Maggie's Plan, the indie rom-com it describes.

The story takes place in New York. Greta Gerwig stars as Maggie, who maintains she is unable to keep a romance going for more than six months. She decides to become a mother on her own and searches for a sperm donor. Eventually she chooses Guy (Travis Fimmel), a math major turned “pickle entrepreneur” who is as quirky and adorable as she is.

Guy offers to impregnate her the old-fashioned way, but Maggie is determined to maintain her self-set boundaries, and hands him a sterile jar. Guy dutifully pads to the bathroom to take care of business.

Clearly Maggie and Guy were made for each other. Well, maybe if Ethan Hawke wasn't the male lead. Y'see, Maggie works at The New College as an advisor for art and design students. John (Hawke) is a new adjunct professor there. He struggles to write a novel while dealing with tension on the home front with his wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore).

She's Danish, though her accent and delivery reminded me of a German interrogator from a war movie. Her hair – in a tight bun – is severe. Her presentation style is severe. She is more successful than her husband and has little patience for his hand-wringing. John and Georgette have two children, Justine (Mina Sundwall) and Paul (Jackson Frazer).

Maggie meets John. Sparks fly.

Cut to three years later. Maggie and John are a couple. He splits custody of the kids with Georgette, and helps Maggie raise Lily (Ida Rohatyn), her 3-year-old from The Big Plan. All is not well. John continues cranking out pages from the now-massive novel and generally being self-absorbed. Maggie continues turning to her married friends Tony (Bill Hader) and Felicia (Maya Rudolph) for support.

And then she has the idea. Would it be possible to manipulate John and Georgette back together again?

I try to avoid long-winded plot descriptions, but Maggie's Plan makes more than a few nods in the direction of screwball comedies, and screwball comedies need a lot of set-up in order to kick in properly.

Writer-director Rebecca Miller based her screenplay on editor-publisher Karen Rinaldi's unpublished novel. Creating a romantic screwball comedy with indie sensibilities is ambitious. Indie films are generally a bit reserved and non-traditional, while rom-coms and screwball comedies are unafraid of employing cinematic exclamation points. Maggie's Plan stays true to its indie roots – it's chronically too-cool-for-school – while embracing the wacky situations expected in rom-coms.

It works in large part because of the swell cast. Greta Gerwig used to get on my nerves – at times she was as irritating as first-season-of-New-Girl Zooey Deschanel – but that desperation has faded, allowing her to craft agreeable characters that are amusing and believable. Julianne Moore is terrific, deftly creating a character who is rude, judgmental and – somehow – funny and sympathetic. Nice work! Ethan Hawke is Ethan Hawke. He is effective here.

In the supporting roles, Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph continue to impress. This time he's more serious than usual, while she finds new shadings for her character. And Travis Fimmel, as the pickle entrepreneur, is a gallant neo-hippie.

My concern with Maggie's Plan is that it may be dismissed as too light by the art house crowd and too indie for rom-com fans. A film this sweet and funny shouldn't be overlooked. So please don't.


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