The title character of Rebecca Miller’s clever romantic comedy actually has a couple of plans rather than just one, but one can easily forgive the imprecision in view of the amusement the picture affords. “Maggie’s Plan” will inevitably be compared with Woody Allen’s movies about sophisticated New York academic types, but its combination of intellect and heart is actually quite distinctive—not to mention funny and charming.
The first plan of Maggie (Greta Gerwig), as she explains to her married friend Tony (Bill Hader), is to become a single mother, since she seems incapable of sustaining a relationship with any man for long. She’s even chosen who will be the sperm donor—Guy (Travis Fimmel), another college friend, a math major who has become one of the city’s major purveyors of hand-made pickles. Guy offers to serve that function in the natural way, but Maggie prefers the more detached approach, and he readily agrees.
While she goes ahead with her plan, however, Maggie—who works as a career advisor to art students at the New School—meets John (Ethan Hawke), an adjunct professor of anthropology who’s working on a novel. The two hit it off, though John is married—to Danish anthropologist Georgette (Julianne Moore), with whom he has two children (Mina Sundwall and Jackson Frazer). Maggie happily agrees to read John’s ever-expanding manuscript, and since he’s growing increasingly unhappy in his life with a colleague who’s much more successful than he is (as well as far more imperious in manner), he falls for the younger woman, showing up at her place just as she’s using what Guy has provided.
Jump ahead several years and Maggie and John are married with a three-year old daughter, Lily (Ida Rohatyn) of their own. John is still working away on his massive manuscript, while Maggie not only serves as breadwinner but the chief sitter for both Lily and John’s two older children. She starts to think that marrying John was a mistake, and decides on another plan—getting him and Georgette together again. Georgette falls into line with the idea, and an academic conference in Canada provides an occasion when she and John can reconnect, in every sense.
Of course, things do not go as smoothly as Maggie had hoped. She shares her scheme with Tony and his wife Felicia (Maya Rudolph), which proves to be a mistake. Eventually Maggie and Georgette must conspire ever more closely in a last-ditch attempt to pull it off. Things turn out nicely in the end, of course, but Miller tosses in a last-minute twist that suggests Maggie’s future might take a new direction.
Gerwig, who’s becoming a major figure in American independent comedy, shows much of the same combination of lovable ditziness and sweetness that Georgia Engel did years ago, though she adds a dose of shrewdness to the mix as well, and Hawke adds another to his able portraits of men who can’t seem to grow up. Moore, meanwhile, nearly steals the show as Georgette, giving the Dane a distinctly Prussian edge while delivering some of Miller’s most pungent lines. (The scene in which she gives John back his novel is a perfect combination of writing and timing.) Hader and Rudolph bring a laid-back spirit to their picture of married life, with an especially nifty gag involving their son’s preference for being chauffeured around rather than walking. Technical credits are all fine, with Sam Levy’s cinematography effortlessly capturing the NYC ambiance and taking on an especially attractive look during the snowy Quebec-set sequence.
Miller’s previous films have been an uneven lot, but with “Maggie’s Plan” she’s achieved a winner—a modern-day screwball comedy with characters whose flaws are themselves rather endearing. You should plan on checking it out.