One of those Manhattan-based, independent features that gets labeled things like “quirky” and “hipster”, this one is actually a consistent delight, that manages to play better and be more affecting then it deserves. I’ve got to hand most of that credit to an extremely game cast, including a hilariously severe Julianne Moore, as well as the elusively brilliant Greta Gerwig. Immune to Ms. Gerwig’s charms? Espouse that she’s “always doing the same thing”? Then you can move along and skip this one completely, because I’m definitely a fan. She’s sly, she’s smart, plus she’s just pretty enough, so if you think she doesn’t know exactly what she’s doing–she’s got you fooled. I’ve read comparisons to Carole Lombard, and early Diane Keaton too. To me, she’s just a sparkling original. Haters be damned.
University director Maggie Harden (Ms. Gerwig) wants a baby, but she’s currently relationship free. Even though well within safe distance from her 30th birthday, Maggie still decides to enlist a sperm donor. Maggie decides upon a former college classmate (Travis Fimmel, pulling off a delicate comedic balancing act, as Guy), who is pursuing a career as a “pickle entrepreneur”. Around the same time, Maggie strikes up an acquaintance with a “ficto-critical anthropologist” named John (Ethan Hawke…perfect), who is struggling to write a novel. John is married to Georgette (a hilarious, scenery-chewing Julianne Moore), and they have two grade school age children–but John is unhappy. One night, John arrives unexpectedly at Maggie’s apartment, immediately after she injected Guy’s sperm with a baster while lying in the bathtub. John barges in, professes his adoration, and they make love. Fast forward three years later, John is divorced from Georgette, and married to Maggie, while they raise their young daughter, as he continues to pen his novel. But the relationship is getting rocky, and Maggie seeks advice from her current married friend, and ex-flame, Tony (a crackling Bill Hader). Soon…Maggie hatches a plan.
Writer/director Rebecca Miller has carved out such a nice, eclectic career for herself, that it shouldn’t be necessary to say that she’s the daughter of legendary playwright Arthur Miller, and the wife of masterful film actor, Daniel Day-Lewis…but there it is. I especially enjoyed her 2002 work, “Personal Velocity: Three Portraits”. And she scored as an actress in the 1990s, in films like “Consenting Adults” and “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle”. But Ms. Miller has truly blossomed as a filmmaker, with a quintet of features now, as maestro and script smith. “Maggie’s Plan” is sly and knowing, with a perfect sense of pace, and displays a confident juggling of its screwball aspects. With expert character turns from performers as diverse as Maya Rudolph and Wallace Shawn, “Maggie’s Plan” keeps its sure-footing, even when its (alright!) “quirkier” episodes threaten to hurtle it awry. Perfect? No. Charming and fun? Absolutely yes. In a big way. I believe I’m on to Greta’s plan.