Writing and directing screwball comedies must be a dead art because we haven’t had a good one in a very long time. Last year’s SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY wasn’t funny in any way and, while this year’s HAIL, CAESAR! had its whimsical moments, it ultimately came up short in the end. MAGGIE’S PLAN hits close to the mark a few times but it also fails to sustain the momentum throughout. Oh, how I miss those classic screwball comedies like BRINGING UP BABY; HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE; WHAT’S UP, DOC? and SOME LIKE IT HOT!
In MAGGIE’S PLAN, reigning indie queen Greta Gerwig (FRANCES HA; MISTRESS AMERICA) plays Maggie Harden, a Midwestern gal who works in an admin position at The New School in New York’s Greenwich Village. In her mid-30s and unable to sustain a long-term relationship, she’s now considering her options, one of them being self-insemination courtesy of Guy (Travis Fimmel, TV’s VIKINGS), an acquaintance from her college days who is now an artisan pickle entrepreneur in Brooklyn. (Oh, how New York hipster, haha… not!) Through a payroll clerical error, she meets John Harding (Ethan Hawke, BOYHOOD), who is not just any professor at her school, he’s the “bad boy of ficto-critical anthropology”, (oh, how pseudo-intellectually witty, haha… again, not!) according to her best friend, Felicia (Maya Rudolph, TV’s SNL). Maggie and John strike up an immediate connection but John is already married to Georgette (Julianne Moore, STILL ALICE; DON JON), a tenured professor at Columbia who takes every opportunity she can to emasculate him. On the very night that Maggie goes to work with Guy’s guyhood, John professes his love for her. Fast forward a few years and Maggie is now married to John and little Lily is almost three.
Unfortunately for Maggie, John hasn’t turned out to be all she hoped he would be. He’s still in the middle of writing his magnum opus and he doesn’t seem to have any interest in anything else, least of all Maggie. Once again, Maggie has fallen out of love and she begins to think she may be better off without a man in her life. So she hatches a plan to get rid of John by putting him back together with Georgette.
On paper, MAGGIE’S PLAN seems like it should work as a screwball comedy and certainly, if you watch the trailer, you would think it does. Moore does her part to inject humour into the film, putting on a Danish accent and being as tightly wound as the bun on the top of her head, but the fun gets dragged down by real-world problems – infidelity, one failed marriage and one failing marriage, and resentful kids… and that’s just to start. As a result, while MAGGIE’S PLAN lifts off, it fails to gain much altitude.
The film, written and directed by Rebecca Miller, is based on an original story idea by her friend Karen Rinaldi, who is a publisher at Harper Collins. Rinaldi has said that MAGGIE’S PLAN is loosely based on her own experiences of giving up on finding a partner but wanting to have a child. Miller, who is the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and the wife of actor Daniel Day-Lewis, may have been the wrong choice for this project though. Her previous efforts (THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE; THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE; PERSONAL VELOCITY) have all been heady affairs. This film needed to have a light tone throughout but sadly it didn’t. As for Gerwig, it’s great that she’s found her niche playing quintessential, 30-something New Yorkers but this fan thinks it’s starting to wear thin. We’ll be seeing her again in a few months’ time in the biopic, JACKIE, starring Natalie Portman. The advance word on the film has been positive but there hasn’t been any press about Gerwig’s contribution.
MAGGIE’S PLAN is a so-so film. If you’ve got nothing else to watch at the cinema, go see it. Alternatively, get on an airplane and watch it there. I hear it’s playing this month on Cathay Pacific.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 34:00.)
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