Somewhere between endearingly quirky and irritatingly pretentious writer director Rebecca Miller’s Maggie’s Plan is the latest in what could be termed the alternative rom-com genre, a filmmaking style typified by the works of Noah Baumbach. It’s also part of that growing cinematic sub-genre, the Greta Gerwig film, in which Gerwig plays the lovably ditzy but still capable and philosophical young woman trying to negotiate romance and New York bohemia. Needless to say those who love Gerwig’s shtick will embrace this film while those who recoil at her kooky characters will be grinding their teeth throughout.
In this film Gerwig plays Maggie, a 30-something woman who decides she needs to have a baby but is unwilling to commit to a relationship and instead seeks a semen donation for artificial insemination. In the midst of this she encounters John (Ethan Hawke), a new lecturer in something called crypto-ficto anthropology at the university where she works. Falling for John, who is unhappily married to a severe Euro-intellectual ice queen Georgette (Julianne Moore), Maggie soon finds herself in the middle of a strange love triangle. As this odd situation developes Maggie, who has always organised people’s lives, hatches a strange plan which she thinks will resolve the situation for everyone.
Like recent Cameron Crowe films, Maggie’s Plan struggles to find a clear and satisfying tone as it drifts from relationship drama to quirky comedy to satire of bourgeois intellectual manners. It seems Miller was so enamoured of a particular type of young hip academic that she created the story simply to enter their world. Consequently, the plot lacks momentum and dramatic punch. The same could be said of some films by Woody Allen, a director whose work this film at times recalls, although Woody is able to explore psychology and characters quirks in a more insightful and funny way.
That’s not to say Maggie’s Plan fails as a comedy or drama. There are some funny moments particularly when Maggie’s acerbic fiend Tony (Bill Hader) is on screen. Also, the film provides convincing insights into the difficulties of relationships and parenthood. Added to that, the film makes effective use of music – particularly Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark – as an emotional release for the characters and a connection to their fading youth as Gen X-ers.
As Maggie, Greta Gerwig is mostly the same kooky, slightly befuddled character she seems to play in every film. Consequently, it feels odd when the film also tries to claim that she is some sort of disciplined control freak. Regardless, Gerwig still has that enjoyably idiosyncratic way of delivering lines that suggests someone with a slightly askew take on reality. Ethan Hawke, is disappointing here, after his terrific performances in the Richard Linklater Before Midnight series, he’s bland and doesn’t convince as someone whom two highly intelligent women would desperately pursue. With here ‘Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle’ accent Julianne Moore is something of a caricature as the contemptuous academic Georgette but Moore is such a fine actor that she is able to make this oddball convincing. Maya Rudolph makes the most of an underwritten role as Maggie’s best friend.
Aussie audiences and Vikings fans will be pleased to know Travis Fimmel makes an appearance in this film even though he plays an awkward creepy guy who has pined for Maggie for years.
For those who can’t stand the cast or quirky hipster rom-coms this film will be a chore but for most audiences it will provide just enough enjoyable moments to make it worthwhile.
Nick’s rating: ***.
Genre: Drama/ romantic comedy.
Director(s): Rebecca Miller.
Release date: 7th July 2016.
Running time: 98 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show