TIFF 2015: Maggie’s Plan
The quirky New York-set comedy is a staple of American independent art house cinema. Every year there seems to be at least one film in this mould trying to break out and find an audience using this formula. This year it’s Rebecca Miller’s latest film Maggie’s Plan. In a premise that has been over-used, indie darling-du-jour Greta Gerwig gives another one of her trademark nutty performances in a film that while not a complete letdown does little to raise itself above the many others that have come before it.
Maggie (Gerwig) is a young woman tired of trying to find the right man to have a baby with. She has decided that she is going to use the sperm of her smart friend Guy (Travis Fimmel), be artificially inseminated, and raise the baby on her own. She envies what her married friends Tony (Bill Hader) and Felicia (Maya Rudolph) have and wants to find the same kind of contentment they have. When the time comes for her to proceed with the procedure, she happens to meet John (Ethan Hawke), an unhappily married expert on fictocritical anthropology. The two quickly fall in love and John’s marriage to brilliant academic Georgette (Julianne Moore) falls apart. Maggie and John get married and she decides to have a baby with him instead. After a time, when Maggie’s daughter has been born, she begins to realize her marriage is not all that she thought it would be and begins to wonder if she made a mistake jumping into this commitment so quickly. John displays erratic and childish behaviour, making poor choices with regards to the health of their marriage and so Maggie wants out. She concocts a plan to get John back together with his ex-wife.
The artificial insemination baby three-way triangle story plot has been done so many times before. It’s a cheap and easy way of creating a conflict in the story for a female character in her 20s. It’s used as a convenient and borderline offensive device to show that this is the only way a woman could possibly be fulfilled. The first half of this film is not immune to this trap and it often feels uninspired. However, the story does manage to redeem itself somewhat with the plot idea of Maggie attempting to break up her own marriage and get her husband back to his first wife. Once this kicks into gear, the story is actually elevated to being better than it had been up until that point. The characters become more layered as they grow to understand that their relationships are complex entities surrounded by moral questions.
The character of John is really rather despicable at times, he is not a good person. He continually acts in immature ways, deflecting his responsibilities and acting inappropriately. It can be assumed that this is Rebecca Miller’s attempt at creating a flawed character that drives the story forward but instead it comes across as a really unlikable character that makes the viewer root for his failure.
Julianne Moore’s Georgette is an unusual beast. The character is so forcefully defined as this strong, determined woman with an accent that at times she comes across as a caricature of a real person. She is depicted with certain kind of personality so consistently without nuance that the viewer may end up seeing her as only that and not as the complicated person she needs to be. This character is somewhat redeemable in the second half of the film as the viewer gets to know her motivations and personality better but it feels like too little too late.