Arts Review, Movies
Rebecca Miller, director and script from a story by Karen Rinaldi
Starring: Greta Gerwig (Maggie), Ethan Hawke (John), Julianne Moore (Georgette), Bill Hader (Tony), Maya Rudolph (Felicia), Travis Fimmel (Guy), Wallace Shawn (Kliegler)
Few romantic comedies meet the standards of the past. Quite frankly, there are no Cary Grants out there any more—and contemporary Audrey or Katharine Hepburns are also in short supply. Romantic comedies should be handled with seriousness but too often, today’s attempts descend into silliness or vulgarity. To laugh and to fall in love, even vicariously, you have to care about characters and what happens to them. That requires good writing, subtle dialogue and well-developed characters. Not an easy task in Hollywood today.
So it’s nice to hail a new rom-com. Maggie’s Plan is a film written and directed by Rebecca Miller. Better known because she’s Arthur Miller and Inge Moraths’ daughter and Daniel Day-Lewis’ wife, Ms. Miller can stand on her own two feet. She possesses a fine talent, which has been obvious to those of us who watched with varying degrees of respect and pleasure The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, Personal Velocity and The Ballad of Jack and Rosie. Each featured great performances by women—Robin Wright in Pippa Lee; Catherine Keener in Jack and Rosie; Kyra Sedgwick in Personal Velocity—and were heartfelt dramas. They weren’t, of course, comedies.
With Maggie’s Plan, Miller has finally made a film that is approachable and fun to watch: not for cognoscenti alone but for a larger public. It features two fine performances by women—Greta Gerwig as Maggie and Julianne Moore as her rival/friend Georgette. What’s great is that the comedy conceit arises out of a character—Maggie—who is credible and not entirely likeable. You can see what she wants and follow her machinations out of a fascination with the character. Somebody real in a rom-com? Surely you jest.
Maggie’s Plan should probably be called Maggie’s Plans. She seems to be a serial planner. Greta Gerwig, who is wonderful playing apparently ditzy figures who actually are smart, has a field day with this film. Her initial plan is to have a baby. She finds a man, Guy, who is a nerd and totally wrong for her. Which makes him perfect for a woman who wants to raise a kid alone. But when Maggie finds a man, John (Ethan Hawke) who is right for her and would help to be a father figure, she develops a new plan, to marry him. The fact that he’s married doesn’t stand in her way—or his. John leaves his over-the-top academic wife, Georgette (a devastatingly brilliant Julianne Moore) for Maggie and they live happily ever after. Or so it would seem.
A few years pass and Maggie finds that she’s falling out of love with John. So she develops a new plan—to marry him off to Georgette, who still loves him. Great idea—but John doesn’t endorse it, nor does Georgette. And this is where Maggie’s Plan becomes a truly funny rom-com. The audience, charmed by Maggie, has agreed with all of her choices before. But now they are confronted with the realisation that she may be wrong. And Georgette slowly shifts from a woman who is easy to parody to someone rather interesting and, on occasion, genuinely original.
Who is right? Who should pair off with who? Maggie’s Plan is an intriguing, really intelligent comedy. That’s unique these days. And worth supporting.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
Tune in to hear Marc Glassman’s Art Reviews
Friday’s at 9:07am on Good Day GTA.