Maggie's Plan is directed by Rebecca Miller, but you'd be forgiven for thinking it was Woody Allen's latest romance comedy drama. The New York setting, the quirky dialogue, the excitable performances and the many shades of love make it comparable with this filmmaker. Even the calibre of the cast makes you think that this could only be Woody Allen, but it's not. Maggie's Plan is like a blend of Before Sunrise, What Maisie Knew and Mistress America. While Miller may be tipping the hat to the veteran, arguably master of romantic comedy, it has a misguided quality to it.
This comes through in the characters and even in the storytelling. Maggie wants to have a baby, so much so that she's willing to enter single parenthood on purpose. Just as she thinks she has found the right donor, along comes John, whose work-in-progress novel gives them a shared goal and leads to greater intimacy. While you can appreciate the chemistry, John is a married man and after he requites his love for Maggie, it's not long before he's divorced and they are married with child.
Maggie's Plan would be pretty ordinary without its strange "romcom" plot and stellar cast as Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore form the three corners of this love triangle. Their range of interplay encompasses each aspect of the romance comedy drama genre quite beautifully with some poignant and funny moments reflecting on the nature of fidelity. While at first quite excitable, playing into the screwball dynamic, they mellow with time as we come to terms with the lighter and darker sides of their endearment.
"There's just one thing... I'm married."
Gerwig is a strong actress playing into the stoicism and fortitude of Maggie. Hawke relishes the opportunity to play head-in-his-book writer, John, whose narrow focus and passion becomes both a strength and weakness. Moore plays Georgette like something out of a Wes Anderson film, using a bracing accent and high strung disposition to block empathy for the stylish ice queen. The ensemble is reinforced by the presence of Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph, who inject some hilarity into proceedings as Maggie's friends, while Travis Fimmel is convincing as the bohemian nice guy and sperm donor.
While Miller establishes a curious and unusual tone, leaning on her actors and whiplash dialogue, the storytelling is scattershot. While it's easy enough to fill in the blanks, the bits-and-pieces come at us like a game of Tetris, making it a bit unwieldy. The overall experience is not unlike Greta Gerwig's previous film, Mistress America, generating spark from a talented ensemble and charging into the inner city screwball comedy with wit and reckless abandon. This finicky mix isn't a crowd pleaser by any stretch, but is easier to appreciate if you focus on the performances and have a soft spot for the films of Noah Baumbach and Woody Allen.