Maggie’s Plan is a delightfully breezy romantic comedy from director and screenwriter Rebecca Miller. It had a lot of truths in it, I thought, about men and women, and has another terrrific performance by Greta Gerwig. But it also owes a lot to Woody Allen.
Vilified as he may be right now, Maggie’s Plan has Allen’s fingerprints all over it. Not every romantic comedy can be traced to Allen, but when the three leads are all academics and a man uses his novel as a way to impress a woman (and a younger woman, at that) this is all Allen. The screenplay is based on a story by Karen Rinaldi, but it’s also based on Husbands and Wives and any number of other Allen films.
That being said, Maggie’s Plan is better than many of Allen’s films of this century. Gerwig is Maggie, who at the film’s outset has decided to become a single mother, using the sperm of an old college friend, a weird guy who has begun an artisan pickle business.
At the same time, though, she falls in love with Ethan Hawke, who is a professor of “ficto-critical anthropology,” which I’m not sure is a real thing or not. He’s married to another anthropologist, Julianne Moore, who is Danish and has an accent like Elmer Fudd’s. What he really wants to do is write a novel, and when Gerwig indicates enthusiasm for it, they have an affair and marry, with a little girl as a result.
After a couple of years, though, Gerwig begins to tire of Hawke, who is still working on his book. He’s extremely needy and self-absorbed, and thinks she is so capable that she doesn’t need him (this is like Hannah of Hannah and Her Sisters). She gets an idea–give him back to Moore, who is hostile to Gerwig’s attempts at manipulation but eventually accedes.
The tone is always light here, and I had a smile most of the time. I was even caught in a trap. Gerwig finds a parking spot right in front of where she wants to be, which is a pet peeve of mine about films set in New York, because this never happens. She gets a parking ticket–and I wanted to cheer. Also, I found Hawke’s performance as a man-child, a puppyish intellectual, to be on target. He thinks he needs freedom, but what he really wants is to be the support for Moore, who is even more childish than he is.
The film has peppy dialogue, the kind that college graduates enjoy, and though not exactly a visual film does have some interesting shots, such as a rainy night in Chinatown and the snowy woods of Quebec. There are also some sly references, such as bookending mentions of A Midsummer-Night’s Dream and two versions of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.”