Maggie’s Plan (2016)
The eternal triangle and the romantic comedy have been soulmates forever but how many ways you can tell the same old love story? The era of female empowerment and emotional recycling is upon us, so it is refreshing to see Maggie’s Plan (2016) take an old story formula and update it with offbeat humour centred on modern marriage. Contemporary lifestyle choices such as wanting a baby but not a man or handing a used lover back to a former owner are just some of the scenarios played out in this delightfully intelligent rom-rom.
The simple triangular plot pivots on independent-minded Maggie (Greta Gerwig), an over-controller who loves falling in love but cannot keep a relationship longer than six months. Wanting a baby without the strings, she arranges for a sperm donor just as she meets John (Ethan Hawke), an insecure academic who is emasculated by the stellar career of his imperious wife Georgette (Julianne Moore). John’s need for constant mothering is no longer fulfilled by the dynamic Georgette, so Maggie and John inevitably pair up and one corner of the triangle disappears. Three years later, Maggie is over the needy John and his permanently incomplete ‘great novel’ so she hatches a plan to reunite John with Georgette. A clever script laced with tangled textual barbs like “ficto-critical anthropology” (Google it) and one-liners like “nobody unpacks commodity fetishism like you do” are rapid-fire and hilarious send-ups of the pretentious world of academe. It is at this level that the film shines brightest: not with belly laughs or madcap comedy, but through a whimsical lens focused on the world of intelligent people who think they control the ebbs and flows of the uncontrollable.
The acting performances are all top-shelf. Julianne Moore plays the understated dominatrix with a hilarious deadpan Danish accent, and Ethan Hawke is perfect as the hapless male who is out-powered by the females in his life. The standout performance is Greta Gerwig whose big doe-eyed innocence and naivety about the ways of the world make her scheming utterly forgivable. While the story has a predictable narrative arc, the dialogue is richly satirical, funny and totally female-centred. It is also an entertaining post-feminist comedy about sex and marriage which imagines a future where males are only needed for sperm and are then recycled amongst whoever will tolerate their innate weaknesses.
Director: Rebecca Miller
Stars: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore