“She’s wonderful but destroying my life,” enthuses Ethan Hawke’s character in MAGGIE’S PLAN, speaking about his wife with a line that could have been lifted straight out of one of Woody Allen’s “early, funny” films. That’s certainly the vibe that Rebecca Miller’s latest film gives off, her first feature as writer/director since 2009’s The Private Lives of Pippa Lee. It’s a film that wears its indie cred on its sleeve, and likely the only one you’ll see this year (or any other) than involves long conversations about ficto-critical anthropology.
Based on an original short story by Karen Rinaldi, the titular Maggie (Greta Gerwig) makes the decision to abandon all hope of romance and be artificially inseminated by a guy (Travis Fimmel) she knew from college. However, just as she enacts this plan, she begins to fall in love with anthropology professor John (Ethan Hawke). After leaving his intellectual wife Georgette (Julianne Moore), a Columbia University Professor, years go by and Maggie realises that she may be falling out of love with Ethan. From here, she hatches a new plan to get Georgette and John back together.
MAGGIE’S PLAN dives deep into the pretentious, and embraces every moment of it. Maggie’s would-be insemination donor is a pickle entrepreneur. Both she and John work for the New School. There’s a party sequence set around a Arcade Fire-esque group in Canada performing Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In the Dark.” It feels like a parody, and Miller’s script is unquestionably a farcical take on the conventions of the genre. Maggie herself might have stepped straight out of the 1970s, by way of the mumblecore movement, with her neurotic control freak tendencies both endearing and infuriating. At times she seems insincere in her motivations, but perhaps this is just her uncertainty coming through in a pitch-perfect performance from Gerwig, one that Georgette affectionately describes as “Pure, and a little bit simple.” It is in fact Moore’s Georgette that owns every scene she is in, her precise wardrobe and Danish accent dryly dropping unmistakably self-aware lines like “Nobody unpacks commodity fetishism like you do.”
Shot mostly around the three principals in a handful of locations, the exteriors largely being glory shots of sections of Central Park, the supporting cast of Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph manage to defy ‘best friend’ archetypes. Indeed, there’s a lot of MAGGIE’S PLAN that defies the conventions of the romantic comedy, not least of which is that it explores the realities of a romance over time, and is actually quite funny to boot. Schedule some time in your plans for this refreshingly honest film.
MAGGIE’S PLAN is released on 7 July 2016 in Australia from Sony Pictures Releasing.
2015 | US | DIR: Rebecca Miller | WRITERS: Rebecca Miller | CAST: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Travis Fimmel | DISTRIBUTOR: Sony | RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes | RATING: ★★★¾