by Elizabeth Stoddard
Not that she isn’t charming in practically every film I’ve seen her in, but Greta Gerwig is at her endearing best in Maggie’s Plan. Adapted for film by director Rebecca Miller, the comedy wholeheartedly depends on the talents of Gerwig; she plays the Maggie of the title. The opening shot is of the back of her head (the last shot parallels this by closing with the focus on her face lighting up with awareness).
Miller’s film about a woman’s good intentions gone awry is filled with whip-smart dialogue. Maggie, a university employee who seeks the intersection of art and commerce for student artists, wants a baby. She convinces an acquaintance (Travis Fimmel, Warcraft, Vikings) to donate sperm, then falls for married anthropology academic John (Ethan Hawke). From there on, Maggie’s Plan makes use of a three-year fast-forward and a zany comedy of errors involving the rekindling of affection between John and his ex (played by Julianne Moore, constantly enrobed in fluffy sweaters and speaking with an accent).
Before setting her “plan” into motion — with consent from his ex-wife — Maggie asks John in a tense discussion, “Am I so capable that I don’t deserve any attention?” This speaks volumes about her character, which Gerwig plays with aplomb. In theory, John and Maggie are each taking on tasks to raise their daughter. But in reality, Maggie is left responsible for child-wrangling, household chores, on top of her paying job… all while John works on his Great American Novel and consoles his ex over the phone.
The mechanics of Maggie’s plot to remove her husband from her frustrated life, but keep everyone happy, is like something out of Shakespeare. The playwright is alluded to at least twice — once through a park performance and again as someone compares Maggie unfavorably to Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Maggie’s Plan has so many things working in its favor, including bitter supporting characters played by Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader. But the pacing can be slow at times, and for the life of me, I missed any hint of “zing” between John/Maggie/Hawke/Gerwig. An amicable friendship, sure, but otherwise, it’s hard to see much in John’s character to inspire even initial devotion from Maggie. So besides Gerwig’s performance, the fact that I’ve never liked Julianne Moore better in a film, and the wit of the screenplay, I’m not sure there’s enough to Maggie’s Plan.
Maggie’s Plan opens in Austin today at the Regal Arbor & AMC Barton Creek.