Saturday, June 4, 2016

MAGGIE'S PLAN (2016)

Written & Directed by Rebecca Miller


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. May 22, 2016 1:10PM


Woody Allen has seemed to have set the template for New York based, upwardly-mobile, intellectual romantic-comedies focusing on mature, hyper-critical, very self-involved Caucasians. "Maggie's Plan", the latest from writer/director Rebecca Miller, offers a slight variation of this model with the emphasis here on a caring yet still impassive young female.

Greta Gerwig, indie cinema's current darling, stars as the "Maggie" in the title who is part of a generation who thinks the Internet makes them all-knowing geniuses yet loses interest in a conversation if it involves more than 140 characters. The actress attempts to enchant with her brand of modern quirkiness but lacks an inner strength, determined initiative and endearing charm to be particularly appealing. Diane Keaton she is not. Nor Parker Posey. Or Lili Taylor. Or even Chloƫ Sevigny. You catch my drift.

Although not even thirty and not wanting to wait until the right man comes along, Maggie decides she's ready to have a child. With the help of married friends Tony (Bill Hader) and Felicia (Maya Rudolph), she decides to ask a former college acquaintance, Guy (Travis Fimmel), a dim but handsome entrepreneur, to be her donor. He agrees not only to provide a donation but also have no involvement raising her baby.

Then Maggie meets John (Ethan Hawke), an anthropology professor at the college where she works. He's struggling to complete a novel and his dominant, Scandinavian wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore), a successful novelist, professor and mother of their two children, is far too busy to give him much support. John offers her pages to read, Maggie loves his work, sparks fly and soon the two have fallen madly in love.

Three years later, Maggie now has a toddler yet hardly satisfied with her life. Still not completed his novel, John spends little time with his new wife, leaving Maggie alone to care not only for the baby but his teenage children that he shares joint custody with his former wife. Realizing she's no longer in love and sensing that Georgette may still have feelings for John, this sets Maggie's appallingly insensitive plan in to motion.

After a career of making intriguing indie dramas focusing on the lives of complicated women like "Personal Velocity", "The Ballad of Jack and Rose" (which starred her husband, Daniel Day-Lewis) and "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee", Ms. Miller, the daughter of acclaimed playwright, Arthur Miller, has decided to lighten-up with a thoughtful comedy involving a little romance. But this twist on convention has a film where the humor isn't nearly broad enough and the love story is buried too deep for an effective romantic comedy. For all of her efforts, Miller is unable to fully convince us that there is anything really funny about the over-bearing, narcissistic behavior of these well-educated characters.

And despite a less than illuminating lead, the rest of the cast are able to keep the film lively with their winning performances. Mr. Hawke handles the part of  Maggie's egotistical and unreliable partner with his usual amiable flair. Despite a far from unconvincing accent (perhaps intentional), Ms. Moore is the standout here as the hilariously direct and icy academic. Even "SNL" vets, Hader and Rudolph are able steal scenes with their brief screen appearances.

With a capable script and strong performances, "Maggie's Plan" still doesn't fully capture the magic of the whisical romantic experience. It's aim was higher than what is usually expected from these films yet some of the light-hearted fun that comes from them is still required.