Maggie's Plan is another in a nice run of films featuring Greta Gerwig. It is my favorite of the three I have seen, and I quite liked Frances Ha and Mistress America. Here Gerwig portrays a likeable young woman who is a bit hapless, a bit ditzy, an affable and bumbling innocent, a bit of a meddler with a good heart.
Maggie works at the New School as a sort of career counselor for art students, helping them market their art to the business world. A single woman in her early thirties, she wants to have a child but despairs of coming to motherhood in conventional fashion because she has never had a relationship that lasted longer than six months. She arranges for an old college classmate, a math major turned pickle entrepreneur, to donate his sperm and, inveterate planner that she is, sets the precise date for insemination some months in advance.
Her well-laid plan turns topsy-turvy after a chance encounter with adjunct professor John Harding (Ethan Hawke) when their paychecks get crossed as she gets two checks while he does not get any. John is one of the bad boys of ficto-critical anthropology, with a reputation for his work on commodity fetishism. But he wants to write a novel. He is able to get by teaching classes as an adjunct while focusing on his novel because his wife, Georgette Nørgaard (Julianne Moore), is a high-powered, high-maintenance academic with tenure at Columbia, a brilliant woman at once domineering and neurotically insecure. The word around campus is that his marriage is falling apart and his wife is some sort of monster.
John is needy and self-absorbed, with a puppyish quality that may be manipulative on some subconscious level. He is looking for affirmation when he solicits Maggie to read his novel. For her part, Maggie is instinctively empathetic, the kind of person given to taking in strays. She is not looking to become involved with anyone but her prospective child, much less blunder into a relationship with a married father of two children, no matter that the marriage is on the rocks.
Fast-forward a couple or three years. Maggie and John are together and have a child. While Maggie carries with her career, pays the bills, takes care of the household, and schleps John's son and daughter to school and other activities, John continues to work on the novel, an endless roman à clef, and spends hours on the phone with Georgette counseling her through her neuroses. The relationship with Maggie works for him.
It turns out that John and Georgette's relationship has depth and complexity that was suspected by neither of them, much less Maggie. Maggie recognizes that such love as she and John had is gone, while he accepts having things both ways, drawn to whatever it is he does not have at any particular moment. Feeling froggy, he cannot decide which way to jump. Georgette's vulnerability shows through as a brittle hardness of character without negating her less appealing aspects. Typical of Georgette is her remark to Maggie after warming to her, "There is something about you, a little bit stupid, I can't help it, I like you." Meantime, Maggie struggles to put the pieces back together after her scheme to make everything work out for everyone blows up on her.
In Maggie's Plan Greta Gerwig solidifies her place as one of our finest young actresses. I am at a loss to explain why I never quite connect with Ethan Hawke's characters. Perhaps in this case it is something of a backhanded tribute because John is not altogether appealing, to put it mildly, as he vacillates between relationships with no inclination to take responsibility for his role in the difficulties that beset them. Maybe I should not take Hawke to task for portraying this so well. I am reluctant to criticize because I have nothing but respect and doff my cap to him for taking roles in films such as this one and the Richard Linklater films with Julie Delpy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight). Julianne Moore is first-rate, no surprise there.
Maggie's Plan left me feeling good without feeling let down by the feel-good ending. I could do with more films like this one and look forward to Greta Gerwig's upcoming projects as actress, writer, and director.