In a modern take on the classic remarriage comedy, Maggie’s Plan follows its titular heroine (Greta Gerwig) as she tries her best to duck and dodge cupid’s arrows as she dashes toward a dream of single motherhood, a decidedly tricky endeavor. Maggie’s only met with folly and frustration as she tries to shape life and love to her liking, and things take a turn for disaster when a family of four become victims to her outrageous schemes.
Writer/director Rebecca Miller proves to have a sharp screwball sense with a comedy that channels Woody Allen neurosis to lightheartedly lampoon millennial angst and faux-intellectualism. There’s a post-feminist vibe permeating the film as well, but any weightiness or pretension that brings to the fold is counterbalanced by Gerwig, whose performance is characteristically disarming and delightfully vapid. The surging actress’ bubbly eccentricities are her greatest asset, and Miller’s given her just the platform to show them off.
We meet Maggie as she confides in her ex Tony (a refreshingly subdued Bill Hader) while walking the streets of New York, ruminating on the fact that none of her relationships have lasted more than six months. She’s all but given up on romance but is nevertheless bent on having a baby, a situation she plans to rectify via artificial insemination. Donating his seed to Maggie’s cause is artisan pickle maker Guy (Travis Fimmel), a similarly quirky, aggressively polite fellow (he somehow comes off as sweet when he offers to inseminate Maggie the “old fashioned way”).
Maggie successfully sidesteps Guy’s advances, but another love connection creeps up on her at her job at The New School, where she makes fast friends with adjunct professor John Harding (Ethan Hawke). John’s an aspiring novelist and perpetual nervous wreck, mostly because his intellectual arch-rival happens to be his Danish, critical-theorist wife Georgette (Julianne Moore, sporting a humorously thick accent), who’s so career-obsessed that she regularly overshadows and neglects her husband’s artistic pursuits (their two children bear silent witness to the power struggle). Naturally, the resentful John leaves Georgette and proclaims his love for Maggie, who’s surprised to find that her affection for him indeed extends far beyond her admiration for his writing. They soon enter into an affair, splintering John’s own family as they start a new one.
It’s a happy union at first: Maggie and John have a baby together and she finally breaks her six-month romance record. But after a couple of years, John falls into the same self-absorbed habits that Georgette drove him crazy with. Maggie finds herself on the wrong end of a domestic role reversal, with John becoming the self-obsessed businessman and her becoming the proverbial chopped liver. Suddenly, her old dreams of being as single parent come rushing back, compelling her to devise a wacky plan to reunite John and Georgette that, as fate would have it, blows up in all of their faces. By this point, the irony of the film’s title rings crystal clear.
Gerwig’s got a knack for playing charming characters with vague mental oddities and a sunburst spirit, and she only seems to be getting better at it. In many ways, Maggie’s a contemptible schemer, ruining the lives of others in her feeble attempts to engineer destiny, but Gerwig’s got so much compassion and sincerity in her eyes that, even in her worst moments, Maggie’s a lovable fool who’s a terrible lover and passionate mother all the same.
Miller has a hand in this as well, crafting a story that’s mostly driven by poking fun at Maggie’s naïveté but never loses sight of the fact that her mistakes are made out of love for her daughter. Hawke does a good job of making John’s drastic switch from wounded artist to selfish jerk feel natural (if a bit jarring), but Moore’s Danish accent feels like a serious encumbrance to her otherwise pitch-perfect performance. The gifted Maya Rudolph joins fellow SNL alum Hader as his wife, but they add surprisingly little to the film as Maggie’s frazzled confidants. Sadly, they feel more like useful plot-advancers than lived-in characters.
There’s a good measure moral and comedic complexity in Miller’s work here, which makes the laughs (even the silly ones, like Guy’s bashful passion for his artisan pickles) feel more earned and genuine than the hollow, drive-by gags crammed into most mean-spirited modern comedies. There’s an easy flow to the storytelling that feels organic and gives the plot developments and character motivations time to register and sink in. Maggie’s Plan is hilarious and sweet, a comedy with a sunny disposition that’s not afraid to let its characters get their hands dirty.
Greta Gerwig learns to let the chips fall where they may in Rebecca Miller's witty, easygoing Maggie's Plan.