06282017Headline:

“Maggie’s Plan” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux

Maggie's Plan poster

In “Maggie’s Plan,” the latest vehicle for the tremendously likeable Greta Gerwig, we get an ensemble romantic comedy that delivers two solid leads and a considerably fresh take on modern families, marriage, and the dangers of remaining good friends with your ex-spouse. While the film is quite amusing, I can’t help but feel that it tries a little-too hard to be hip, to the point where its projected quirkiness manages to diminish the overall lack of effectiveness of the screenplay. Director/Screenwriter Rebecca Miller does her darndest to factor in an Allen-esque vibe to this romantic comedy with more leaps and bounds than we are obliged to comprehend. That’s not saying that the film is muddled, however it is the Director’s first foray into the genre after penning such dramas as “Proof” and “The Ballad of Jack and Rose,” and quite frankly, it shows.

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Maggie (Gerwig) is an independent young woman in the midst of an early-life crisis. Wanting desperately to be a mother and unlucky in love, she hand-picks her sperm donor: a pickle entrepreneur named Guy (Travis Fimmel of “Warcraft”) with a degree in mathematics. However, this “plan” is upended by her mutual attraction for fellow teacher and novelist John Harding (Ethan Hawke), who happens to be embroiled in an unhappy marriage to high-maintenance professor Georgette (Julianne Moore), with two children of his own. The two fall in love, and (rather suddenly) three years later are the parents of a beautiful daughter. Yet, the two lovers appear to be falling out of love with each other. What is Maggie, the homewrecker with a heart of gold, to do? Devise a new plan that consists of reuniting John with Georgette, of course! Co-starring Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph as Tony and Felicia, a married couple who seemingly have all the answers to their best friend Maggie’s problems.

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The always wonderful Greta Gerwig (“Mistress America,” “Greenberg”) carries this film on her back and exhibits that unmistakably funny and charming personality that we’ve come to expect. An obvious highlight early on in the film has her attempting to answer the door after inseminating herself, making a case that she’s the most gifted physical comedienne since Lucille Ball. Somewhat baffling is Oscar-winner Julianne Moore’s quasi-ridiculous turn as Georgette, almost a caricature in and of itself. With a bizarre accent that we were never given an explanation as to where it or her derived from, I’m sure it was Miller’s intention to create a one-of-a-kind, eccentric and plucky female persona. However, it’s less clear if she intended for Georgette to come across as one of the least sympathetic, jilted wives that may have ever graced films of this type. I didn’t accept for one moment that Georgette could develop or maintain feelings for anyone but herself, much less a man she let slip away and then decides she wants back. Nevertheless, I have to give Miller credit for fashioning a character who serves as both the homewrecker and homewreckee.

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Surprisingly, Ethan Hawke delivers a fine performance as the man caught between his affection for two women, and this change-of-pace role is perfectly suited to his talents. Most importantly, the veteran actor proves that he can still rise above a script as a leading man. Perennial supporting actor Bill Hader’s role as Tony, the epitomic friend from the opposite sex, appears to be an amalgam of his characters from “The Skeleton Twins” and “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” nothing more, nothing less. That’s not to take away from his performance, it’s just that we’ve just seen it a thousand times before. Besides, I couldn’t help but be constantly distracted by his excessively unruly hair, a somewhat jarring new look for the actor.

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The truth is, I actually managed to enjoy the film on multiple levels, when the hurriedness of the screenplay actually slowed down to the point of allowing us to experience a cinematic moment that was either funny or touching. Yet, I still can’t begin to understand the reasoning behind jumping from Maggie and John’s act of love to the sudden entrance of their three-year-old little girl. This contributed to a rather confounded narrative (or lack thereof) that did no favors in relation to the authenticity of Maggie and John’s relationship. And the problem wasn’t a lack of chemistry between the actors, but rather a detachment from the characters themselves. Still, when the flickering faded and the events onscreen had vanished, I couldn’t help but applaud Rebecca Miller for giving her audience (as well as her leading lady) the denouement they so richly deserve.

**1/2 (two-and-a-half out of four stars)

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