MAGGIE'S PLAN Review

Maggie's plan is a little bit of a gimmick and that is to say the plan that our titular character comes up with and not the film itself. Despite the credentials of the cast and creators what we get in this new film from writer/director Rebecca Miller (The Ballad of Jack and Rose) is something akin to a Noah Baumbach picture (and therefore, by default, a Woody Allen picture) with more of a plot device to drive the characters rather than that of an engaging premise. The titular plan though, as gimmicky as it can sometimes feel, isn't the star of the movie and thus is what saves Maggie's Plan from completely discrediting itself instead allowing it to turn into the insightful, funny, and rather poignant piece it always seemed destined to be based on those aforementioned credentials. When it comes to smaller, independent features that focus largely on intellectuals and their need to create drama and conflict so as to drive their own creativity most can be pretentious without holding any actual water no matter how compelling or precise the dialogue. Maggie's Plan walks this line skillfully, beginning as a film that would fall squarely into the genre of "artists supposedly making great art based on their own lives that we now find appealing because we're watching a movie about them," but somehow manages to become more about the characters than the thickening plot that is driving them. It's a very "movie-like" set-up for a movie that doesn't feel as artificial as said set-up. That isn't to say Maggie's Plan should be one thing because it seems like it should be (a talkie indie drama), but that it turns out it very much does want to be a certain type of thing (a talkie indie drama) as well as a few other things (a screwball/melodrama) that makes the final product feel forced if not still mostly coherent. As stated earlier though, it is not the plotting or even the sometimes strained dialogue that is the driving force behind the film, but rather the people who begin as archetypal academics and are humanized due largely to their ideas and self-awareness (or lack thereof) to such an extent that by the end of the film it's easy to forgive the bipolar tone their movie carries.

John Harding (Ethan Hawke) and Maggie Hardin (Greta Gerwig) have a meet-cute after a mix-up concerning their last names.
We meet resident quirky girl Greta Gerwig playing the titular Maggie as she walks around a New York market with her friend Tony (Bill Hader) and his son before confessing she's decided she's not waiting for a man to fulfill her dream of having a child, but rather going ahead with artificial insemination. Tony isn't a fan, but Maggie has clearly made up her mind. Given Ethan Hawke shares the poster for this film with Gerwig and that they seem to be in a state of hipster bliss on said poster it is likely clear where things are going from this point forward. Just as Gerwig is ready to accept that she might not be the type of person who is able to maintain a long-term relationships she happens to meet the perfect guy. Maggie and Hawke's John Harding have a meet-cute over their checks being switched at the University they both work for-Harding as a leading mind in the field of "ficto-critical anthropology" and Gerwig's Maggie serving as a self-described bridge between art and commerce. So yeah, it's not difficult to see how such individuals fill in these certain types of New Yorkers who exist in this ultra-intellectual world of academia, but this doesn't exclude them from becoming wrapped-up in good old fashioned emotions such as love that allow for their romantic odyssey's to play out in classic literary fashion. Though Harding is married to a said-to-be monster named Georgette (Julianne Moore), a tenured professor at Columbia with two children, Maggie and John can't help but bond over his fiction novel and her Quaker roots giving way to a romantic relationship just as Maggie is set to inseminate herself with a friend from colleges, pickle entrepreneur Guy (Travis Fimmel), sperm. About a half hour into the film we jump forward a few years presenting us with a situation not wholly unexpected that, if one has glimpsed the trailers, pretty much spells out where the remainder of this thing is heading. This is all well and good though as it is the thoughts and ideas and not so much the actions of the characters going forward that matter most-or at least leave the biggest impact.

What becomes most appealing about Maggie's Plan is that of the way in which it conveys the exchange of thoughts these rather shallow, but sometimes endearing characters often have. Gerwig plays Maggie as this person who likes to keep things organized and largely compartmentalized who can't help but to make a mess of most things. A scene in which Maggie recounts her raising is both affecting and simultaneously just quirky enough to make sense out of who this woman became. Gerwig plays the part earnestly (as she does with most of these niche roles) and is described as being pure and innocent in her facade which relays to her intent to never hurt anyone even when she doesn't particularly care for them. Maggie is an individual who can't leave things up to destiny and therefore can't help but to feel obligated to take care of everyone that comes into her life making her a good mother, of course, but this also sets up the crux of the issue our titular character faces when it comes to Hawke's character and the typical male trappings he falls into after he and Maggie have become an established couple. Though the film plays Hawke's John up to be an intelligent and well-respected academic he comes off more cursory and rather superficial the more we get to know him. For a man who has presumably lived the same length of time as Hawke's forty-five years and read as many books as his character would have read there is very little perspective to be gleaned from the actions and patterns John falls into. In something of a necessary for the story, but disappointing for the character John becomes another cautionary tale for women about how men, no matter the level of initial infatuation, can never get far enough away from themselves in order to fully commit to what they presumably made a commitment to in the act of matrimony. In this situation in particular, there is very much a predator/prey vibe in that John, though charming, is not all he appears to be upon first meeting Maggie. After becoming comfortable enough with one another John begins putting his prior responsibilities onto the unsuspecting woman who fell for him when he presented himself in that other light. In this sense, Maggie's Plan is very much about how romance is and always has been illogical and messy, but is ultimately unavoidable.

Maggie confides in John's ex-wife Georgette (Julianne Moore) when she realizes her own marriage is in trouble.
In other ways, the film is about taking on the idealistic thoughts set in place by society when entering into a relationship or the marriage stage of a relationship and being able to accept that marital happiness is not absolute, but that the participants must act like actual adults in order to make such complex relationships work. In some ways, the film offers an idea for a solution to such large and subjective problems in the easier said than done idea of balance. That the movie is insightful enough to discuss such issues and conflicts while keeping its characters equally perceptive and appealing (well, at least the female ones) when discussing such battling ideologies and what is good/not good about social norms is what allows viewers to feel the ramifications of such conversations and the decisions that come out of those conversations. At times it feels as if Maggie's Plan wants to very much be that "slice of life" movie in which we are fed a fair amount of sparklingly smart dialogue, but other times it wants to be this outlandish and somewhat broad comedy that simply doesn't mesh well enough for it to work on the number of levels it wants to connect on. It takes a certain level of skill to discuss such heavy topics as the conundrum of raising a child solo or in a house with a dead marriage before transitioning to a scene where your two leads are frolicking around comically on the floor of a hotel room in an attempt to resurrect the passion of their relationship's past. Though Miller certainly displays an ability for weaving in numerous themes in natural ways, her "learning to accept destiny instead of controlling it," theme is upended by the contrived plot device used to try and teach our main character said lesson. One imagines to have written and directed such a film as this one Miller must be a fan of the previously mentioned Allen and Baumbach, but it seems she hasn't completely honed in on what makes many of those filmmakers best works feel so effortless. While Maggie's Plan has plenty of things on its mind (the effect of divorce on children, the mentality of the male, nature versus nurture, the romantic side of math) in the end it's as if most aspects are trying too hard to make the part of this movie that is a comedy work leaving the sharper, more astute aspects to be little more than afterthoughts.