Decent romantic comedies are an endangered species. It’s getting harder to spot one that isn’t clichéd and contrived. Maggie’s Plan is the exception: intelligent and screwball-funny with clever and complicated female characters. It is the story of young woman longing to start a family (Greta Gerwig), who becomes involved in a complicated love triangle with a professor, John (Ethan Hawke), and his theorist wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore, hilarious with an eccentric Danish accent).
Maggie, a New Yorker, has decided to have a baby on her own. But just as she’s about to do the deed with a DIY insemination kit she meets John, a frustrated novelist. He’s married to a superstar academic, the glacial and terrifying Georgette. At this point, the film leaps ahead two years to reveal that Maggie now has John and a toddler. But marriage is not the happy-ever-after ending Maggie dreamed of. In her fantasy of the relationship, she was rescuing John from selfish Georgette so he could write his masterpiece. In reality, John is failing to finish his novel, while she is working, looking after their daughter and taking care of the kids from his first marriage. Maggie hatches a plan: why not give him back to his ex?
The premise is ingenious, and Miller fills it in with colourful characters and lots of detail, plus several convenient twists and turns of the plot. Gerwig and Hawke are superb as self-involved people whose relationship develops in surprisingly resonant ways. Both are sympathetic but not hugely likeable in the way they remain oblivious to everyone around them, and watching them interact is a lot of fun. But most critics think the entire film is stolen by Moore in a hilariously spiky turn as the high-maintenance Georgette, who peers imperiously through her riotous array of furs and scarves but can only barely hide the fragile person inside. All three characters are beautifully played and the shifting dynamic between them is thoroughly enjoyable, even if the artificiality of the plot makes it difficult to believe. Perhaps Rebecca Miller, who directs and wrote the screenplay, is making the point that coincidence and even nature conspire against people to direct their fates. Or maybe it’s just a cautionary tale about the danger of getting what you wish for.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall