“Maggie’s Plan” – New York City is known a “city that never sleeps.” Since Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is a New Yorker and has 24 waking-hours per day at her disposal, she finds time for not one plan – as the film’s title suggests – but two. Gerwig is experienced and so proficient at playing quirky, well-intentioned – but also a bit chaotic – urban dwellers, and see “Frances Ha” (2012) and “Mistress America” (2015) for a pair of prime examples. She offers a similar performance here, except this time, her character, Maggie, is more mature and enjoys a fulfilling career.
She creates business plans for talented artists and teaches at a nearby college, and although monetary security is a non-issue, she does not believe that romantic security and children are in her future. Maggie exclaims that men lose interest in her only after a few months, so her best chance to raise a child is not through a life partner but via artificial insemination, aka her first plan. Now, I chose to ignore that Rebecca Miller’s film is numerically misnamed, because, namely, “Maggie’s Plan” owns eccentric charm.
The film – like a Woody Allen picture – invites the audience into the lives of some New York intellectuals whose biggest problem is their over or under analysis of their own relationships. Miller introduces us to the aforementioned individuals, as they point out their partners’ shortcomings or grumble about living sans a spouse while also casually mentioning their background in art history or research in fictocriticism.
Maggie clearly is the most likable, as the others carry around their own personal gray clouds above their heads, but the very talented supporting players – including Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, and Maya Rudolph – balance their characters’ semi-gloom-and-doom with amusing subtleties. Moore steals nearly every scene as Georgette, a self-absorbed professor with a thick Danish accent. Others – including her husband John (Hawke) – demonize Georgette as an overly-pragmatic, unfeeling opportunist. Once we finally see her on-screen, she certainly possesses these unflattering qualities, but Moore skillfully delivers them with welcoming, comedic charm while also generating some surprising sympathy for her character.
Maggie elicits sympathy too. As she makes headway with her first plan, she unexpectedly falls in love as well, and as the collective-they say, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Hence, Maggie dreams up a second plan to untangle her way out of her first. Gerwig owns the cinematic chops to carry the film’s narrative to a logical conclusion, but while watching “Maggie’s Plan”, it is nearly impossible to not compare her character to her work in the previously-mentioned New York City comedies.
In “Frances Ha” and “Mistress America”, her characters make clumsy mistakes, but they bounce back with youthful exuberance while simultaneously processing their miscalculations. Here, Maggie is also aware of her missteps but is more victimized, in an emotional and neglectful way. Gerwig makes it a breeze to root for Maggie, but we, the audience, comply under a more concerning eye, and these emotions bruise the comedic tone into something more subjugated.
Luckily, the second half of picture takes a major turn towards John and Georgette, which smartly diverts from Maggie’s romantic difficulties and the somewhat heavier spirit. On the other hand, this change also meanders, and the movie ends up feeling like two hours when its actual runtime is just 98 minutes.
Although the excitement admittedly wanes at times, Moore, Gerwig and the rest of the cast hold our attention towards this small group of New Yorkers. Maybe their lives would be better served if the city garnered at least a couple hours of “figurative sleep” each night. Well, sleep or no sleep, as we all know, issues of the heart are universal.
Image credits: Sony Pictures Classics; Trailer credits: