This fifth feature from writer-director Rebecca Miller is a surprising delight. With Maggie’s Plan, Miller subverts the traditional love triangle dynamic to deliver a droll treatise on love and friendship in contemporary New York. This is a smart, immensely enjoyable romantic comedy, thanks largely to another wonderfully naturalistic performance from Greta Gerwig as the titular Maggie, a young woman fixated on love yet unable to sustain a relationship beyond six months. As has been the case with some of Gerwig’s previous characters (Frances Ha, Mistress America), Maggie is annoying, complex and unlikeable, but the sheer weight of Gerwig’s performance wins you over and, by the time this unconventional love story has run its course, you can’t help but love her. Sitting somewhere between the work of Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach (far better than much of the recent work by the former and far less cynical than the work of the latter), Maggie’s Plan is witty, whimsical and most definitely worth watching.
When we first meet Maggie she is lamenting her inability to maintain a long-term relationship and informing her friend Tony (Bill Hader) of her intention to have a child via a sperm donation courtesy of ‘pickle entrepeneur’ Guy (Travis Fimmel). However, as luck would have it, she meets John (Ethan Hawke) a lecturer at the college where she works. Although he is widely regarded in his field – described as the ‘bad boy of fictocritcal literature – John is being overshadowed by the success of his Danish wife Georgette (Julianne Moore), a brilliant but self-absorbed academic who has enjoyed a stellar career. So, when he asks Maggie to read his novel-in-progress, Maggie is smitten and romance rapidly ensues as John falls under the spell of this effervescent younger woman who recognises his genius. Jump forward two years; John and Maggie are married with a daughter but the dream has soured somewhat as Maggie’s life isn‘t working out how she expected. She finds herself struggling to manage her responsibilities as mother and primary breadwinner, all the while taking on more responsibility for John’s other two children (Mina Sundwall and Jackson Frazer) as his writing drags on with no end in sight. So, what does one do in such circumstances? You hatch a plan to reunite your husband with his ex-wife of course!
Thus, the second half of the film is about Maggie setting forth on her mission to get John and Georgette back together. As a concept, it sounds kinda naff, but with Gerwig at her heartfelt, endearing best, the ensuing conspiracy between Maggie and Georgette, and the prickly friendship that develops between these two women with personalities that are poles apart and little in common other than their affection for the same man, is both amusing and affecting. It is therefore frustrating that Moore’s accent proves such an irritation. Given Georgette’s greater acclaim within the academic community of which all three characters are a part, perhaps Miller is trying to suggest European academic and cultural superiority. Maybe Miller has simply remained faithful to the characterisation in the original story from Karen Rinaldi, but either way, surely there are Danish performers perfectly capable of taking on the role. This is not to suggest that Moore’s performance (accent aside) is anything less than we would expect from one of America’s finest contemporary actors.
In fact, all of the performances are great, including Hader and Maya Rudolph as Maggie’s forthright best friends. As Justine, Sundwall presents a teenager refreshingly devoid of histrionics in the face of an ever-changing family dynamic. Maggie is every bit the modern comic character and she proves a charming, idiosyncratic guide through a plot that balances contemplative moments, empathy and emotional sincerity with satire and gentle mockery of those who take themselves far too seriously. The final act lingers a little too long, but overall Maggie’s Plan is a sweet subversive spin on love and romance in the big city.