About Grant

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New York, NY, United States
Film director and screenwriter. Cinephile since birth. Director of DREAMS OF THE WAYWARD (2013). Film Studies MA student at Columbia University.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Film Review: Maggie's Plan (2016) by Rebecca Miller 2.5/5

     Slowly careening off the tracks, Rebecca Miller's film Maggie's Plan (2016) is a film with extraordinary potential that is far more frustrating to watch than it should be.  On paper, Maggie's Plan has everything that one could want from a romantic comedy: attractive people, intellectuals who thrive within niches of academia (in this case, ficto-critical anthropology), and a fair amount of absurdity.  Where the film doesn't quite deliver is in Rebecca Miller's plan for Maggie's Plan (the script).  This isn't a Noah Baumbach or Woody Allen film (not even an Alex Ross Perry film), but that's definitely the world that Maggie's Plan wants to inhabit.  Sure, Maggie's Plan is not without some wonderful performances and delightful moments, but it's not enough to make this a particularly memorable and enjoyable experience.
     Opening the film, Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is introduced helping a blind man cross the street... it's a touching image (and lightly comical), and speaks to Maggie's character.  She's a wonderful person, from which love and generosity overflow, but she feels that she has a mandate of sorts to change the reality of her life and the lives of others (in a word, she's "controlling"... or at least that's what the movie thinks she is).  Her first absurd plan involves artificially inseminating herself, using a "pickle entrepreneur's" semen, because she doesn't foresee meeting anyone to have a child with any time soon.  Naturally, that's when she meets John (Ethan Hawke), a married man who teaches ficto-critical anthropology at the same college that Maggie teaches at.  John's wife, a tenured professor at Columbia University named Georgette (Julianne Moore), is neglecting her marriage and the upbringing of their children to pursue her academic aspirations.  Fate brings Maggie and John together at the perfect moment, as Maggie now has a man in her life that could potentially love her and give her a child, and John has someone to read the novel that he's begun writing.  At one point, John says that he believes that "unborn children are the gods", as they dictate what happens to the adults that will bring them into existence.
     Perhaps the most glaring error in Maggie's Plan is found within the concept of "time".  Were this a work of surrealism, some of the issues with the script could be accepted, but rarely has the passage of time in a film been so disorienting due to time not being embraced.  Nearly three years pass around the thirty-minute mark (when Maggie and John admit their love for one another and have an affair), and John's kids from his previous marriage are exactly the same age as they were three years before.  No effort has been made to make John look a little more weathered by the emotional weight of having a divorce and another child whilst slaving over a novel, and the only signifier that the time passed at all is that Maggie and John do have a child who is two years old.  As a result of minimal effort being used to express that time has passed, there's this strange feeling that Maggie could wake up at any moment and that her new life circumstances would be a wakeup call for her to delay her desire to have a child and ruin John's marriage (even though they're in love).  However, this really happened – there is no such dream to awaken from, which is unfortunate.  The tone and potential trajectory of the first thirty minutes of the film was joyful and exciting, but Rebecca Miller's script dictated that things cannot remain so in Maggie's Plan.
     Though Maggie is the protagonist, she is one of the least consistent characters devised in this film.  Her introduction would lead one to think that she's a contemporary real-world version of Katharine Hepburn's character in Howard Hawks' Bringing Up Baby (1938), but then her idiosyncratic behaviors begin to get more genuine while her heart is still in an absolutely absurd state.  All of these problems come down to the script, and it's fitting that commitment is a struggle for everyone in the film, as there are few signs that the film is committed to any particular tone or pace.  
     Thankfully, the performances from Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, and Julianne Moore are consistent in nature and in engagement.  Sure, they can't fix some of the airy patches of the script where silence overtakes what could be humorous moments, but they are able to bring a sense of naturalism to a film that is sadly misguided.  Even though Julianne Moore's character, Georgette, has a thick Scandinavian accent, she makes it work and manages to make the pronunciation of basic words hilarious.  Beyond that, the back and forth dialogue between Georgette and John concerning facto-critical anthropology is often brilliant (occasionally too on the nose, with name-dropping and contemporary pop-culture references).  For a film that is this script-driven, it's the actors who manage to drive the film to success because the script cannot support the weight of what it is aiming for.
     Cohesion and a little more attention to detail within the mise-en-scène could have brought Maggie's Plan from mediocrity to grandeur.  Not that a film should be evaluated on how successfully it made one laugh, but the intelligence of many of the jokes were pleasing to the ear and were delivered with great proficiency.  It's a shame that these characters didn't have a better film to maneuver within, but the actors did their best to make Maggie's Plan what it is – a romantic comedy about marriage and the upbringing of children.  Yes, it's a mature topic, and an area deserving of being explored dramatically, but Maggie's Plan still missed the mark.

My rating: 2.5/5
IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3471098/?ref_=nv_sr_2  

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