Film review: MAGGIE’S PLAN, from ‘Built For Speed’

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.

Classification: M.

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.


Film review: SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE, from ‘Built For Speed’

Tiresome rom-com Sleeping with Other People unbelievably screened at MIFF this year and now has a general release through Palace Cinemas.

The film proposes the bizarre notion that Jason Sudeikis could be some sort of romantic lead. He plays insouciant smart-ass Jake, a sex addict who, 13 years ago, lost his virginity to the slightly crazed and extremely flirty Lainey (Alison Brie). When they encounter one another again at a sex addicts meeting there’s still a spark of attraction between them but they’re determined to ensure that any sort of relationship remains platonic. What ensues is a familiar and predictable rom-com that relies on the tension of unrequited romance between its principals, a theme explored much more effectively in films such as Friends with Kids and writer/director Leslye Headland’s previous effort Bachelorette.

As an alleged comedy Sleeping with Other People rarely hits the mark. While it contains a couple of vaguely amusing lines, the dialogue mostly consists of genitalia references and unfunny, self-consciously clever and increasingly irritating quips delivered in Aaron Sorkin babble voices but without Sorkin’s cerebral insights.

This film could have been a dud if it wasn’t for Alison Brie who illuminates the screen with a mix of innocent charm and potent sexuality that makes Jake’s lingering obsession with Lainie completely understandable. Harder to fathom, though is her attraction to Jake as Sudeikis plays him the same way he plays every character, as a smarmy sleaze-ball. This routine from Sudeikis is tolerable in ‘raunch’ comedies like Horrible Bosses and We’re the Millers but in what is supposed to be a more thoughtful role he just comes across as a twerp. After watching him behave like a git for the most of the film, a last minute attempt to imbue him with a degree of sensitivity fails dismally.

Sleeping with Other People also features some poorly developed and at times irritating supporting characters. Adam Scott, wearing a creepy moustache, plays Lainie’s former boyfriend Matthew with whom, for reasons unknown to the rest of humanity, Lainie is still obsessed.  Jason Mantzoukas who plays Xander, Jake’s business partner, is the obligatory quirky, politically incorrect-buddy and he delivers one of the most annoying performances in cinema this year as he shouts obnoxious drivel throughout the film.

As so many film-makers have done before, Headland attempts to infuse the film with the romance of New York City by placing characters in the city’s iconic public attractions such as Central Park.  Unfortunately, the use of murky digital video undermines the visual appeal of these locations.

As a supposed romantic comedy Sleeping With Other People is rarely romantic or comical but because of Alison Brie’s sprightly performance it is at least tolerable.

Nick’s rating: **1/2.

Genre: Romantic comedy

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Leslye Headland.

Release date: 29th October 2015.

Running time: 101 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.



Film review: LOVE ROSIE, from Built For Speed

Love, Rosie at first seems to be just another cute, fluffy British (or more accurately Irish) rom-com full of unrealistically pretty people enjoying idealised twenty-something lifestyles.  As we have seen, though, with Studio Canal films such as the similarly named Love, Actually, these types of movies have a sneaky way of seducing audiences with their romantic fantasy world.

This film pursues a familiar Studio Canal theme in which male and female friends build a relationship around awkwardly supressed romantic feelings.  Lily Collins, plays Rosie Dunne who, since the age of five, has been best friends with Alex (Sam Claflin).  Although it’s clear they have deeper feelings for each other they seem content to keep their relationship platonic as they head into the final years of school.  When Rosie unexpectedly falls pregnant to the sleazy Greg (Christian Cooke) and Alex heads to the US to study medicine, they temporarily drift apart.  As the film follows their lives over the next 15 years, though, there’s an ever-present feeling of something unresolved between them.

Anyone who has seen a rom-com in the last 30 years will know exactly how this film will end and pretty much every step along the way.  Still, the film compensates for its predictability with a spunky central performance from Collins whose cuteness, charm and gift for quirky comedy recall Audrey Hepburn.  Claflin who looks a little like a young, blonde Hugh Grant is appropriately likeable as Alex but less impressive than Collins as he comes across as too much of a goofball.  The supporting characters, particularly the partners with whom Rosie and Alex find themselves are disappointingly one-dimensional neurotics and scumbags. The exception is Jaime Winston who delivers a sassy turn as Lily’s no nonsense friend Ruby. 

Like many rom-coms Love, Rosie is set in attractive, idealised, upmarket versions of England and the US.  It also renders Rosie’s world in a reassuringly warm, Autumnal palette courtesy of  Christian Rein’s red-tinged, soft-focus cinematography.  Still, the film has a believable matter-of-fact tone and welcome moments of grubbiness such as Rosie having an alarming experience with rogue condom.  The film is also driven by some fine music including songs by Elliot Smith.

As a comedy it’s mostly tepid and certainly falls well short of the inspired silliness of a similarly-themed film like Bridget Jones Diary but there are a few genuinely funny moments revolving around Rosie’s stereotypically British awkwardness.

Love, Rosie is hardly ground-breaking and probably only qualifies as a mid-ranking Studio Canal film but it’s less cheesy and a little more gritty than expected and Lily Collins’ delightful performance helps us glide over some slow and uninspired sequences.

Nick’s rating: ***.

Genre: Romantic comedy.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Christian Ditter.

Release date: 6th Nov 2014

Running time: 102 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. 


Time travel is one of the most tantalising concepts in cinema.  The possibility of exploring uncharted worlds of the future, of re-living cherished moments from the past or even rectifying mistakes, holds an eternal fascination.  Unfortunately, very little of that fascination works its way into the quirky Australian time travel rom-com The Infinite Man.  This low budget film uses the mind blowing concept of time travel for little more than a dating dilemma.

Josh McConville plays the nerdy, doleful Dean who is desperately attempting to save his relationship with girlfriend Lana (Hannah Marshall).  His plan for a romantic weekend with Lana at a favourite holiday spot turns sour when they discover that the motel is an abandoned shell and Lana’s sleazy arrogant stalker Terry (Alex Dimitriades) has followed them there. Dean has a secret weapon, though, a time travel device (a skull cap with some wires attached) which can transport him back in time so that he might fix the disastrous weekend.  Not surprisingly the bumbling Dean creates nothing but chaos with his time machine as he plunges himself, Lana and Terry into a time loop that sees multiple versions of each person brought together and events playing out in ever more destructive fashion.

More a quirky romantic comedy than a science fiction film, The Infinite Man mimics the dead-pan style of shows like Flight of the Conchords with a sideways glance to the romantic longing of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the karmic redemption of Groundhog Day.  Unfortunately, this film, while sporadically funny, produces nowhere near as many laughs Conchords or Groundhog Day and is never as emotionally engaging as Eternal Sunshine.

Writer/ director Hugh Sullivan should, however, be admired for the deft way in which he has integrated the various plot lines and the multiple versions of each character.  He also touches on thought provoking issues such as controlling male behaviour and the destructive emotional forces in relationships.  Unfortunately, these more serious concerns are not explored in sufficient depth.  The biggest problem with this film, though, is that the central conceit of events repeating over and over becomes increasingly dull.  It doesn’t help that nearly the entire film is shot in the very uninteresting location of a large abandoned motel.  There just isn’t enough interesting material to sustain this film and it ultimately feels like a Tropfest entry that has been stretched to feature length.

The cast do their best with the material at hand. Josh McConville is amusing and mostly sympathetic as loveable loser Dean and he occasionally recalls Graeme Blundell’s characters from the 1970’s.  Hannah Marshall has a quirky appeal as Lana while Alex Dimitriades gives a strange, weirdly funny performance as the aggressive Terry.

Idiosyncratic films such as this tend to drastically divide audiences. Some will love this film’s oddball logic and dry wit while others will repeatedly check their watches and wish they could immediately time travel to the end of the film, this reviewer was in the latter camp.

Nick’s rating: **1/2.

Genre: Romantic Comedy/ Science Fiction.

Classification: MA.

Director(s): Hugh Sullivan.

Release date: 18th Sept 2014

Running time: 85 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. 

Film review: SLEEPWALK WITH ME, from Built For Speed

Sleepwalk With Me is a gentle but not particularly funny romantic comedy written and directed by and starring This American Life’s Mike Birbiglia.

He plays the pudgy, doleful 30-something Matt Pandamiglio, a wanna-be stand-up comedian whose career has advanced to the point of mopping up vomit in a bar.  Averse to adult responsibility, he has also spent eight years dodging the question of marriage to girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose). When his bullying physician father (James Rebhorn) demands that he make something of himself, he throws himself into his stand-up comedy career but in the process only causes more chaos in his relationship with Abby.  Complicating matters is Matt’s sleepwalking condition called REM behaviour disorder where the normal REM sleep paralysis isn’t present causing Matt to act out his dreams even to the point of jumping through a window.

With its neurotic central protagonist, faltering relationships, trendy New York milieu and sardonic voice-over, this semi-autobiographical film seemingly tries to evoke Annie Hall-era Woody Allen.  Unfortunately, Sleepwalk with Me lacks the inventiveness, intellectual depth and consistent humour of Woody’s movies.  After a few amusing moments early on this film soon runs out of puff and becomes repetitive and mostly unfunny.

Birbiglia really needed another set of eyes on the script as it lacks momentum and leaves loose threads dangling such as the fallout of a one night stand Matt has with a Hooters waitress.

Apart from a smattering of laughs, some ok quirky indie music typical of low budget American rom-coms and a few insights into neurotic male behaviour and the struggles of stand-up comedians, there’s little to recommend Sleepwalk with Me.


Nick’s rating: Two and a half stars.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Mike Birbiglia, Seth Barrish

Release date: 4th April 2013

Running time: 81 mins.


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