NYFF: ‘Maggie’s Plan’ is a Crowd Pleasing Charmer by Rebecca Miller

maggie's plan

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: In many ways, filmmaker Rebecca Miller has made a modern day Noah Baumbach film here with the quirky romantic comedy Maggie’s Plan. What I mean by that is Miller traffics in the comedy of educated New Yorkers with her latest movie, in the process also creating a showcase for actress Greta Gerwig. Miller’s flick is decidedly on the lighter side of things, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need. The New York Film Festival usually programs one or two of these a year as a change of pace, and they tend to be quality, so this one fits right in. Is it a bit forgettable and just a simple crowd pleaser? Yes. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Not at all, especially when this sort of entertainment also features Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore, among others. Maggie’s Plan won’t change the world or set the box office on fire, but it’s a solidly enjoyable entry into the NYFF 2015 slate.

Maggie (Gerwig) is an independently minded University career advisor in New York City looking to have a child. Issues like being single, as pointed out to her by long time friend Tony (Bill Hader) aren’t roadblocks to her, and almost immediately she’s picked out former college years acquaintance Guy (Travis Fimmel) to provide sperm. That plan gets derailed when she meets adjunct professor John (Hawke), who quickly goes from friend to lover. In the process, Maggie breaks up John’s unhappy marriage to the more successful Georgina (Moore), with whom he has a son and a daughter. Flash forward a few years and Maggie/John have a child of their own, which fills Maggie with joy, though all are still interacting and involved in each others lives…sometimes for the better and sometimes not. I won’t spoil where things go, but it’s always clever, often amusing, and never too serious. Maggie’s Plan is essentially an offbeat rom com, though the focus is squarely on the comedy as opposed to the romance. Luckily, it’s a mixture that fits this flick very well.

Rebecca Miller is usually more of a showier writer and director, which means that her subdued choices here require the cast to work a bit harder, much like with Baumbach’s work (furthering the comparison, the cinematographer here is Sam Levy, who has worked with Baumbach on his last three films). They’re all up to the task though, with Greta Gerwig and Ethan Hawke especially shining. Gerwig is playing something close to her Baumbach roles, but with a tinker here or there. She’s a bit more grounded here, which fits this film. Hawke crafts a three dimensional romantic interest who’s not who you’d expect. It’s a winning performance and best in show here, if you ask me. I wasn’t wild about Julianne Moore though in Maggie’s Plan, as she has a fairly ridiculous accent that wasn’t consistent. I suppose your mileage with Moore might vary here, but the way she sounded threw me off from time to time. The aforementioned Travis Fimmel and Bill Hader have amusing supporting roles, while other cast members include Jackson Frazer, Maya Rudolph, Wallace Shawn, Mina Sundwall and more. Miller obviously directs, while her screenplay credit is shared with Karen Rinaldi, who wrote the novel this is based on. It’s not quite anonymous writing and directing, but Miller’s filmmaking is not the reason to see this movie.

I’ll have more to say about Maggie’s Plan when it pegs a release date, likely at some point in 2016, but suffice to say that it’s cute and should be able to easily find an audience. Fans of what Miller usually puts out (like The Ballad of Jack and Rose, for example) might be surprised and/or dissatisfied by this, but it will be their loss. With a cast like this, you really can’t go wrong. The movie could have been a bit funnier, personally, but it’s another solid entry for the festival this year, and I’m all for that. Maggie’s Plan is one to watch out for when it hits theaters.

GRADE: (★★★)

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