Movie Review - Maggie's Plan

A romantic comedy that tries to be smarter than your average bear and so intellectual and for intellectuals fails by being so predictable. As such, it's not funny. It's dry, which some might appreciate, but, despite jumps in time, it drags, and like so many Hollywood rom-coms, it relies too much on a gimmick. For all its intellectualism, it falls back on characters being extremely stupid. What didn't help is that the trailer for this movie, which I saw weeks prior, spoils the entire movie. Some films can overcome being spoiled with some kind of surprise or emotional resonance. This film doesn't, and even if this film weren't set in a wintry Manhattan, it would still feel bone-chillingly cold.

Greta Gerwig (Mistress America and Frances Ha Ha) stars as Maggie, an administrator at a college or university in New York City. She oversees art students and loves her job, but, her main concern is having a baby. She comes up with a plan to get artificially inseminated. That plan gets upended when she meets an anthropologist named John Harding, played by Ethan Hawke (Training Day and Before Sunset). They fall in love and her goal to be a single mom is derailed.

It's not that she never wanted to have a man or be in a relationship. She just didn't think she ever would. She explains later why she thinks that way. She opens up honestly about her parents and her childhood. Her way of being and her coming up with this plan makes sense. It's the machinations thereafter that don't make sense.

It's not that the rest of this movie doesn't make sense in that it's confusing. It's just not clever or as compelling as it probably wants to be. For starters, Maggie's reason for not going to a sperm bank is a rather non-reason. Guy Childers, played by Travis Fimmel (Tarzan and Vikings), is the person whom she asks to be her sperm donor. Instead of artificial insemination, Guy wants to impregnate her through intercourse. Aside for a love of mathematics and pickle-making, we're never invited inside his head. We're never invited to know what Guy is thinking and why. He then practically disappears, yet by the end of the movie, we're meant to circle back and feel something about him, but unless that feeling is utter confusion, it doesn't work.

We are invited inside John's head, but again it's a place that makes little sense. John feels less like a character and more like a plot device. Directed and co-written by Rebecca Miller, this is purposeful for John. It just made his character one with whom I couldn't connect. When Maggie and John get together, she seems hyper-aware of problems, but he doesn't. In fact, everyone seems hyper-aware, except him. It's not just because he is on the receiving end of lies, he just seems dumb in certain regards, besides being a published and well-regarded anthropologist and writer.

John is then portrayed as a terrible husband and father. Yet, Maggie and Georgette, played by Oscar-winner Julianne Moore (Still Alice and Far From Heaven), bend over backwards to accommodate him or keep him in their lives. With Georgette, he has a couple of children and a decade or more of history, so you can possibly understand the investment. Unfortunately, it gets to a point where they're doing all this work for essentially a slouch and a deadbeat. John is not likeable, so I can't go with Maggie and her plan for him.

Gerwig does give a good performance. There are sweet and funny moments of Maggie being a mother working with an adorable little girl, Lily, played by Ida Rohatyn. Sadly, it's not enough here. The movie ends on a note that's also very hetero-normative. The idea of artificial insemination or not making a family in the traditional ways goes to a general, queer notion of non-biological based families. Yet, the movie ends with throwing that queer notion out the window and basically says nope it's all about biological ties.

One Star out of Five.
Rated R for language and some sexuality.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 38 mins.


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