(M) Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore
Maggie (Greta Gerwig) likes control over all aspects of her life and she has a specific plan for her future. She has decided that she wants a baby, but does not want the responsibility of a husband. She has convinced herself that she is unable to maintain a loving relationship with a man, but feels that should not get in the way of her having a child. Her plan is to artificially inseminate herself with the biological assistance of Guy (Travis Fimmel), but things do not go to her plan. She could not have guessed that she would fall in love with the brilliant, but married John (Ethan Hawke). What begins as an affair of the heart and mind progresses into a physical relationship that leads to the eventual birth of a daughter, Lilly, and the breakdown of John’s marriage. Fast-forwarding three years, Maggie and John have married one another and they are enjoying all that Lilly brings into their lives, but not one another. They see that the romance has left their relationship and Maggie realises she has become the slave to John’s bad habits. In another attempt to control the next chapter of her life, she devises a new plan (with the help of friends) for a life without her husband in it. Her scheme is to get John and his former wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore), back together. The challenge is getting everyone to go along with the new plan. What could possibly go wrong?
What will be a surprise to many is that this convoluted premise is the set-up for a romantic comedy. But not one of the traditional variety. The typical rom-com usually has relied upon physical comedy but the writing and performances within Maggie’s Plan replace that with dry wit and well-timed dialogue.
Director Rebecca Miller (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee) has a writing and filming style best described as a melancholy, New York fairy tale that is reminiscent of Woody Allen’s back catalogue. Her casting for the primary characters are quintessential independent film choices — Gerwig and Hawke. Their casting telegraphs that this quirky love story will not be standard rom-com fodder. Over the years, Hawke (Boyhood) and Gerwig (Miss America) have been mainstays in the realm of independent cinema. Miller proves to have a strong skill for drawing talent, as she surrounds her lead actors with stellar support from Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Maya Rudolph (The Way, Way Back), and Bill Hader (Trainwreck). Hidden within the mix of this exceptional troupe is the welcomed surprise of Travis Fimmel (Warcraft), who steals each scene that he is allowed to be part of.
With such a stellar cast and clever writing, up-and-coming Miller seems to have the elements for a high quality production. But two elements move Maggie’s Plan from uniquely engaging to being just a standard arthouse outing.
The key elements that undermine Miller being able to deliver a thought-provoking comedy are the lack of chemistry between the leads, and the difficulty to find the logic in the story.
The spark between Hawke and Gerwig never seems to catch fire. This could be blamed on the director’s style or on the actors’ performances but, regardless, the spark never quite materialises. But this is a minor issue compared with the absence of logic in the storyline (even when you appreciate that romantic comedies are not always meant to be logical). Miller’s attempt to make this an intellectual tale of serendipity turns into a muddled journey of confusion. This leave this rom-com with little romance or comedy.
These issues do not completely stop Maggie’s Plan from being an appealing film, but it does leave this potential modern day fairy tale with very little magic to be considered a romance worth remembering.
What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
“You needed to be born”
One of the more touching moments in Maggie’s Plan is the story of Maggie’s own relationship with her mother. A single mother herself, Maggie’s mum said to Maggie that “You needed to be born.” This beautiful life provides one of the most poignant moments in the film. Also, it could challenge people to consider the fact that God does have a plan for all who come into this world and to consider what the purpose was in their birth.
Passages on why we were born
1 Corinthians 10:31