Maggie’s Plan, the new film from director Rebecca Miller, is an idiosyncratic look at the lives of some know-it-alls who don’t really know-it-all.
“I love complex geometry where I can connect different people in different ways,” she says, “and where you can completely change relationships over the course of a film.”
Populated by New York City academics—there’s a crypto anthropology prof, a sperm donor who thinks math is beautiful, a tenured Columbia instructor—Maggie’s Plan stars Greta Gerwig as, a single a-type art teacher hoping to have and raise a baby by herself. She has a sperm donor and a plan. Complicating her strategy is John, played by 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.
“I was looking for something that could be funny, could be set in New York and that I could connect to,” says Miller, who adapted the screenplay from an unpublished novel by Karen Rinaldi. “Some months before I received the chapters Julianne Moore told me the story of a woman who had left her marriage, started a new family, blended a family and found herself in an organizational pickle. She constantly had to figure out other people’s ski holidays and things. I wondered if people could connect to this idea of how complicated it is to be a person right now and how many choices we have. I felt like it was kind of in the air and it felt very real to me. In that sense it had a lot of juice in it.”
The script of Maggie’s Plan suggests Miller may be a spiritual cousin of Woody Allen. Actually, she’s the daughter of legendary playwright 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 New Yorkers.
“On a totally practical level I wanted to make a movie in New York because I was living here,” she says. “We lived in Ireland for years as our primarily home and then we shifted it here for a time. I was excited to be here but I had youngish children in the house so for me to live and work in the same place was important.
“I have a real love for [New York]. When you have been living here forever you don’t necessarily appreciate it but when you come back to the place suddenly everything looked so beautiful and appealing and wonderful. All my love and feelings for the actual, exact places that are in the movie spilled out onto the screen.”
She also included at least one incident from her life. In one funny scene a character expresses displeasure by burning a manuscript and returning the ashes to its author.
“I did burn someone’s book when I was in college,” she laughs. “It wasn’t a book they had written, to be fair. It was only a book they had lent to me and I was angry at them so I burned it. My salad days. I much more calm now.”