[This is a re-post of my Maggie’s Plan review from the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. The movie opens in limited release today.]
It’s a mark of Greta Gerwig’s immense charm and charisma that she can continue to play a variation on the same character type—the Confident Flake—and be compelling every time. Her latest turn as this type comes in Rebecca Miller’s Maggie’s Plan. While Gerwig’s eponymous character is reminiscent of her roles in Frances Ha, Damsels in Distress, Mistress America, and others, it still comes off as a fresh performance thanks to strong writing, directing, and a charming cast of supporting players. Although this is an airy story of a young woman who takes the long way around to maturity, Maggie’s Plan rarely feels dull, and it’s a joy to watch Miller work with a light, confident touch that gives the film a personality all its own.
Maggie (Gerwig) wants to have a baby, and she’s resolved to get artificially inseminated by Guy (Travis Fimmel), a former classmate. However, her plans get upended when she meets John (Ethan Hawke), an anthropology professor at the New School who’s working on his first novel. John is married and lives in the shadow of his successful wife Georgette (Julianne Moore), a respected professor at Columbia. John and Maggie begin to fall for each other, which leads to an even more ambitious plan from the controlling Maggie, who, to her credit, only has the best intentions.
Maggie’s Plan is a bit of a marvel in that it takes a situation that could have been emotionally fraught and dark, and manages to keep it funny yet honest. These aren’t particularly likable people, but Miller trusts her cast’s charm to keep the characters sympathetic. Beneath the jokes about “ficto-critical anthropology”, you have three incredibly selfish characters—Maggie could be a homewrecker; John could be a philanderer; and Georgette is indifferent to her husband’s career. These people shouldn’t be endearing or funny, and yet they’re frequently both without sacrificing the weight of their relationships.
I don’t want to go into spoilers, so I’ll simply say that Maggie’s Plan goes a bit too far to be believable, but it still works as a nice bit of farcical comedy paired with some relationship drama. This is Gerwig at her finest, and although Maggie could arguably be somewhere on the spectrum with how she approaches other people, we never turn against her. Even in Maggie’s most dim-witted moments, Gerwig is unassailable. There is no one else out there in American cinema like her right now, and it’s fascinating to watch a talented actress carve out her own niche character to which others will later be compared.
It also doesn’t hurt that an excellent supporting cast surrounds her. While John is a bit of a scumbag, Hawke plays the character with the right balance of pompousness and vulnerability, so that while we believe that this is a character who could cheat on his wife, we also know he’s not someone who would commit adultery at the drop of a hat. Moore gets to chew the scenery a bit and channel a bit of Maude Lebowski, but it doesn’t feel like the character is a cartoon. And Bill Hader, who plays Maggie’s friend Tony, easily strolls away with every scene he’s in.
Maggie’s Plan may be light, but it’s not trifling. It’s filled with so many great little moments, especially with the odd, idiosyncratic codas Miller gives her scenes, that it comes off as stronger than its minor tale of a woman who’s supposed to be super-organized, but takes messy routes to get to where she wants to be. In time, we may get tired of this type of character from Gerwig, but for right now, she remains a joy to watch.