Maggie (Greta Gerwig) has never sustained a relationship longer than six months - but desperately wants a baby. She solicits a sperm donation from a friend, but has hardly begun the artificial insemination process when she consummates a budding romance with John (Ethan Hawke), an unhappily married academic hailed as "the bad boy of fictocritical anthropology." Maggie's rejuvenating enthusiasm lures John away from his brilliant but domineering Danish academic wife Georgette N¿rgaard (Julianne Moore) and the two settle down to raise their daughter. Everything has gone according to Maggie's plan; so why isn't she happy, and what meddlesome scheme will she concoct next?
Review by Louise Keller:
A bit Woody Allen-esque with its New York setting and quirky relationships, Rebecca Miller's film about life, babies and relationships explores idealism, manipulation and fate. It's a shame that Miller does not make us care more for the characters; if she had, we might have been more committed to outcomes, but there are some interesting dynamics and three strong central performances create the dysfunctions of the triangular relationship moulded by fate and design. It's like a screwball comedy without a linear storyline that meanders through the snakes and ladders of relationships, career imperatives and family dynamics, and while the film beggars belief for much of the time, its saving grace is its perfectly judged ending.
As the title suggests, the exposition begins with a plan: Maggie's plan to set the direction of her life without relying on a committed relationship. How simple it sounds: 'to borrow genes' from appropriately named Guy (Travis Fimmel, suitably eccentric), a pickle entrepreneur who thinks maths is 'beautiful'. The scene when Guy arrives at Maggie's bohemian book-filled apartment with paperwork showing a clean bill of health, but forgets the all-important sterile plastic jar containing his sperm is delicious.
Maggie's burgeoning relationship with John (Ethan Hawke), her work colleague and controversial anthropologist begins with the exchange of ideas: he asks her to read a chapter of the book he is writing. While their scenes together have an interesting dynamic as the dialogue flies back and forth, there is little chemistry between Hawke and Gerwig, a fact that works against the narrative. Look out for the scene in which John arrives unexpectedly at Maggie's apartment when she is in process of trying to inseminate herself. It is one of the film's funniest. Gerwig's Maggie is not dissimilar to the New York drifter and dreamer she played in Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha (2012), but infinitely less likeable. Gerwig is terrific at these roles, able to convey an easy pragmatism when everything around her is less than straightforward.
Julianne Moore's Georgette, John's overbearing academic Danish wife is an interesting construct with Moore highly watchable even though her character never feels real. Family dysfunction at dinnertime with the kids is thrown onto the table as part of the menu and Moore, her titan hair severely pulled up into a top-of-head twist, offers an unusual German Danish blend accent, being more palatable than the blend of coffee with lashings of butter Georgette serves.
Bill Hader is entertaining as Maggie's po-faced friend Tony, who says 'Love is messy', a fact shown to be true, as the lives of the three central characters become inextricably intertwined and relationships metaphorically skid on the snow and ice of Quebec and New York's chilly winters. Maggie's Plan may not warm your heart but the film is entertaining enough on a superficial level.
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MAGGIE'S PLAN (M)
CAST: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Travis Fimmel, Alex Morf, Wallace Shawn
PRODUCER: Damon Cardasis, Rachel Horovitz, Rebecca Miller
DIRECTOR: Rebecca Miller
SCRIPT: Rebecca Miller
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Sam Levy
EDITOR: Sabine Hoffman
MUSIC: Michael Rohatyn
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alexandra Schaller
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 7, 2016