New York Film Festival
Writer/director Rebecca Miller’s “Maggie’s Plan” makes for the kind of madcap, ensemble-driven romantic comedy that Woody Allen has not churned out since his relationship with Mia Farrow turned sour. And it’s certainly the kind of screwball comedy abandoned by studios altogether. But lest this review devolve into nothing but comparison to other works, it must be said that this is a wonderfully crafted and involving film in its own right.
Miller is the first person not named Noah Baumbach who seems to have a clue what to do with Gerwig’s considerable charm. Beneath her hip, ultra-modern exterior and droll delivery lies reservoirs of deep feeling and humanity still largely unexcavated. Miller might be the figurative Daniel Plainview to figure out the means to pull it out of the ground and siphon it to power other characters.
Gerwig stars as the titular Maggie, who might think she has a plan – but then life happens. Or fate happens. Or, heck, Maggie happens! Some odd mixture of time, self-realization as well as cosmic meddling seems to guide the proceedings of “Maggie’s Plan” as she stumbles and soars through a unique romantic escapade.
While trying to become pregnant to raise a baby alone, she falls in love with Ethan Hawke’s John Harding, a nebbish professor who feels like a wallflower in his marriage to Julianne Moore’s Georgette Norgaard. He struggles to complete a novel long in the works yet faces nothing but stern rebukes at home from his critical theorist wife. Both John and Maggie seek to seize the narrative of their lives … so they begin a relationship together.
Unlike so many stories involving older men who fall for younger women, Maggie never loses her agency in the courtship. In fact, it is far more often she who levels with John than the other way around. So it should come as no surprise that whenever things take a turn for the worse, it is Maggie who takes the initiative to grow out of their relationship.
In a turn that feels worthy of an adult sequel to “The Parent Trap,” Maggie works to reunite John with Georgette. The two might as well still be bound in matrimony, as Maggie learns from being mother, stepmother and ultimately mediator between the two families in which John has a stake. All the resultant (mis)adventures are raucous and as relatable as anyone else’s, even in spite of their elitism. And that really says something considering that, at one point, a Carl Jung text can be seen to prop up a lamp.
Successive plot developments keep “Maggie’s Plan” moving along at a swimming, easygoing pace, though the towering trio of performances are what inspires wonderment along the way. Gerwig excels as more than our perception of her as Lena Dunham’s older sister. Some of her similar quirks and mannerisms carry over, sure, but she seems to really adopt and internalize the responsibilities of being a semi-functional adult. It’s a major shift in her work, and one that portends many exciting turns to come.
The real stars, however, are Hawke and Moore. So often typecast as a laid-back smooth talker, Hawke startles playing the kind of shy turtle who rarely emerges from the shell of his ficto-critical studies mental bubble. It’s the kind of work that veers enough off of his normal path to merit our attention, although it might not scream its own merits.
Moore, on the other hand, expounds upon the comedic promise of her masterful performance as whiny Havana Segrand in 2014’s “Maps to the Stars.” Once again slyly deploying a put-on accent (this time, Danish) to distance the character from the actress, Moore’s Georgette epitomizes the kind of droll humor that can flow from the mouth of an ivory tower intellectual – while also embracing how easily she herself can become the joke. It all feels so natural from her. But look closely and you will see a countless carefully calibrated choices, ones so specific that they could only come from a master of the craft. A- /