Maggie’s Plan ***

Smart people act illogically while in love in this indie dramedy.

Is it worth $10? Yes  

My high school history teacher, Mr. Sapienza, told me having a plan in life is important, but it’s not the end all be all. To illustrate, he drew a straight line on the board. Point A, at the beginning of the line, is where I am now, he said. Point B, at the end of the line, is where I think I’ll be in ten years. What I cannot account for, he noted as he placed dots all over the open space between points A and B, is what’s going to happen in the next ten years that alters my path away from point B, possibly permanently.

Roughly 20 years of life experience later, I can say without reservation that Mr. Sapienza was 100 percent correct.

I was reminded of this while watching “Maggie’s Plan” because Maggie (indie film darling Greta Gerwig), an early-30s art management advisor in New York City, keeps coming up with different plans that never play out the way she expects. She is single and eager to have a baby, so she arranges a sperm donor from a pickle salesman (note the symbolism) named Guy (Travis Himmel). However, before that transaction is complete she meets John (Ethan Hawke), who’s a work colleague, noted academic, aspiring fiction writer and good company. On the night she tries to artificially inseminate herself, John professes his love. She reciprocates. He leaves his wife Georgette (Julianne Moore) and two kids for Maggie. It seems like a crazy love story that happened at just the right time.

Too bad life has a way of usurping the best-laid plans. Writer/director Rebecca Miller’s film soon jumps to three years later, and Maggie, even with a daughter to call her own, is miserable. John is the same irresponsible malcontent he was with Georgette, bypassing all responsibility to Maggie while he endlessly writes his novel. He also spends hours on the phone with Georgette, which gives Maggie the idea to get John and Georgette back together. To say the least, complications ensue.

It’s a clever conceit, and Miller’s script is imbued with a quirky sense of humor that that makes light of situations without undermining their seriousness. It also helps that she cast Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph as a bickering married couple who are friends with Maggie – they add needed perspective and levity throughout Maggie’s chaos.

The story has its flaws, all of which are noticeable and forgivable. Examples: 1) John is a pseudo-intellectual louse who inexplicably has two smart women fall in love with him. I know Ethan Hawke plays him, but what’s the appeal? And why would Maggie think she’d be happy by enabling him? 2) Georgette is described as a cold-hearted Scandinavian who’s making John miserable, but we learn that’s not exactly true. This means Moore has the unenviable task of changing the viewer’s perception (between what we’re told and how she actually is) of Georgette in limited screen time. It would’ve been better for Moore and the narrative if John was merely unhappy with Georgette and didn’t paint her as an unfeeling monster.

Story quibbles aside, Miller directs with a steady hand that’s in firm control of pacing and tone, which allows the running time of 98 minutes to feel crisp and just right. You may not always like or agree with the protagonists of “Maggie’s Plan,” but seeing them navigate the torturous seas of love, raising children and family drama is a tale of tribulation worth watching.

Did you know?
Rebecca Miller is the daughter of famed playwright/Marilyn Monroe husband Arthur Miller (“Death of the Salesman”).

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