Jumping straight in makes for an awkward start (“I haven’t had a relationship that lasted longer than six months” is an early line), but as conducted by the ever-watchable cast and its newly reinvigorated director, Maggie’s Plan quickly falls into step.
Maggie herself is a rare “responsible” spin on the usual Gerwig persona; within the first half-hour she’s inseminating herself and breaking up a marriage, but she’s got some self-awareness. The marriage in question – between “ficto-critical anthropologist” Hawke and a wonderfully Euro-accented Moore, both comic-realist intellectuals – probably wasn’t built to last, though. Until, that is, Maggie realises she’s unhappy with her distanced, high-maintenance paramour and wants the nominal “other woman” to take him back. So develops a fairly recognisable variation on the smart-New-Yorkers-in-love pseudogenre.
Except the quality is so high as to push it far beyond those eye-rolling limits. It isn’t quite as lacerating as the excellent, frustrating Listen Up Philip, but doesn’t need to be; this excursion into graduate neuroses and writer’s block wants us to love its characters, cold selfishness and all, and deftly succeeds. Its core is sweet, its rhythms calm yet tightly-woven, and its comic tone rather masterful (“Žižek is there!”). Miller is a veteran, but while her previous films (including a rare misstep for Daniel Day-Lewis) have been divisive and undercooked, Maggie’s Plan – right down to its lovely final sequence – could be a reset, a satisfying slice of well-characterised, perfectly acted cinema that reannounces the writer-director as a truly interesting voice.
A sometimes affecting but above all funny treatise on independence, womanhood and the surprising gulf between affectionate love and relationship functionality, Maggie’s Plan boasts effortlessly great performances, a consistently strong script and conspicuously exceptional production design. It sticks with familiar styles but does so with unique ideas and heartfelt panache.
CAST: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Bill Hader, Julianne Moore, Maya Rudolph, Wallace Shawn
DIRECTOR: Rebecca Miller
WRITER: Rebecca Miller (screenplay), Karen Rinaldi (story)
SYNOPSIS: Maggie’s (Greta Gerwig) plan to have a baby on her own is derailed when she falls in love with John (Ethan Hawke), and destroys his marriage. After falling out of love with him, however, she comes up with another perfect plan: reuniting John with his ex-wife (Julianne Moore).