In “Maggie’s Plan,” the new film from director Rebecca Miller, two academics have a meeting of the minds.
Set against a backdrop of the ivory tower of academia—there’s a crypto anthropology prof, a sperm donor thinks math is beautiful, a tenured Columbia professor—Greta Gerwig plays the title character, a single, a-type art professor hoping to have and raise a baby by herself. She has a sperm donor, a pickle entrepreneur named Gus (Travis Fimmel)—“What do I deposit my genetic gold mine in?” he says.— and a plan. Complicating her plan is John (Ethan Hawke), a part-time professor who initially asks her to read the first chapter of his novel but quickly becomes a love interest. The resulting love triangle—he’s married to Georgette (Julianne Moore)—teaches Maggie to make fewer plans and embrace the mysteries of the universe.
The script of “Maggie’s Plan” suggests Rebecca Miller may be a spiritual cousin of Woody Allen. Actually, she’s the daughter of Arthur Miller, but the way she writes about neurotic New Yorkers here has more in common with Allen than her dad’s realist morality plays. With a great deal of humour she details the lives of smart but not terribly aware people. More important than the funny observational nature of the story is the cast’s ability to make self-absorption likeable.
As always Gerwig is a treasure who appears to be living the moment we witness on screen for the very first time. She makes it look easy but her naturalism is not only charming in the extreme, it’s very tough to do. She is the movie’s beating heart and despite some mislaid plans, always comes off as engaging.
Working opposite her is Hawke who effortlessly embodies John’s ego driven quest to be thought of as a serious novelist. Moore hands in a rare comedic performance—complete with an intimidatingly unidentifiable accent—as Georgette, an intellectually fierce but pretentiously over-the-top bundle of nerves.
“Maggie’s Plan” is an idiosyncratic look at the lives of some know-it-alls who don’t really know-it-all. It’s a screwball comedy that is equal parts goofy and great.