Maggie’s Plan is a fresh, funny romcom with smarts. The actors have fun with their eccentric characters and so will you.
Pick the director. Manhattan setting of comfy apartments and parks, dippy female lead seduced by self-absorbed older academic who leaves his similarly self-absorbed academic wife, some eccentric secondary characters giving unheeded advice as Cupid runs amok within the love triangle…
Yep, the setup’s oh so Woody Allen. But the execution, the work of writer/director Rebecca Miller, is not. Sigh of relief. The last thing we need is another Julie Delpy Woody wannabe, and that’s not what we get here.
Unlike Delpy, Miller is not haunted by Woody. She must have been aware that she was on his territory – she even takes a few swipes at academic pretension and sends up the terminological guff that accompanies it – but this is very much her own film.
She has a nice lightness of touch, manipulating her characters and their situations with a mischievous but never cruel sparkle in her eyes. You get the feeling she likes her characters, all of them. Indeed, she has real affection for her lead, 30-something Maggie (Greta Gerwig).
Poor Maggie hasn’t done well in love, none of her relationships having lasted longer than 6 months. She decides she can wait no longer for motherhood. Enter sperm donor and home-kitchen pickle entrepreneur hopeful Guy (Travis Fimmel), who suggests a natural insemination. Maggie opts for a syringe. And wouldn’t you know it, she’s soon pregnant to new lover, academic John (Ethan Hawke), reputedly “the bad boy of ficto-critical anthropology” (haha). He leaves his wife and they move in together, but Maggie finds herself raising her child and his kids virtually on her own, while he secretes himself away in his room, agonising over a novel that just ain’t happening. Disenchanted, she dreams up a plan where everyone’s a winner.
We’ve all encountered Maggies in real life. Just off-tilt without knowing it, ingenuous but not dumb, a natural caregiver who doesn’t quite know what’s best for herself. When she finally figures it out, you’ve gotta be delighted for her. She’s put so much focus on others – karma has to work for her! O, the perfect world of rom-coms…
Miller’s characterisation and presentation of Maggie is deft, and Greta Gerwig is a perfect fit for the role. Gerwig’s dippiness can be a pain at times, but it’s toned back and right on song here. And she brings an honesty and vulnerability to her character that is most endearing.
The rest of the performances are also top notch, and you get the sense the actors have fun – as well they might, with a witty, well-crafted script to work from. Ethan Hawke gets the self-absorbed academic down pat, and Julie-Anne Moore is as enjoyable as ever as his jilted wife. Dunno how accurate her Danish accent is, but she works it into her character to great effect to project an intellectual sophisticate with a sharp tongue who, much like the intuitive and distinctly nonintellectual Maggie, struggles to understand herself while training an astute eye on others – especially her ex-husband.
We know the shape the narrative will take – this is essentially a comedy of manners. The fun is in the characters and their trip-ups and realisations as they progress towards a resolution we expect to be just, but hope we won’t see coming – well, not too far in advance, at least. When the last piece of the jigsaw falls into place, it’s too neat a fit to be a huge surprise, but satisfying nevertheless.
Fresh, fun, feelgood and smart.
Movie website: http://sonyclassics.com/maggiesplan/
Australian release date: Thu 7 July (at Cinema Paradiso in Perth)
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