Maggie’s Plan screens at 6pm on Monday, October 5, and at 3pm on Sunday, October 11, as part of the main slate of the 53rd New York Film Festival. Sony Classics has acquired the US distribution rights, but no release date has been announced yet.
Greta Gerwig has never appeared in a movie that has grossed more than $71 million, and that movie, 2011’s No Strings Attached, gave her a supporting-buddy role in a romantic comedy run by Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. Yet despite her only other big-studio release, the 2011 remake of Arthur, being both a sorta-romantic comedy and an unequivocal flop, that’s exactly the genre (sorta-rom-coms, not flops) where Gerwig has carved out an unlikely niche for herself, as distinct in its own way as big-money rom-com brands of yore like Julia Roberts or Kate Hudson.
The NYFF entry Maggie’s Plan, like other recent Gerwig vehicles, is not precisely romantic. But unlike in her recent collaborations with Noah Baumbach, her character does get to kiss someone.
Maggie (Gerwig), an administrator at the New School, becomes romantically entangled with John (Ethan Hawke), an adjunct professor working on his novel. Their connection eventually causes a shift in the plan of the title, which involves Maggie getting herself pregnant with the non-romantic seed of Guy (Travis Fimmel) and raising a kid by herself. But her new life with John isn’t perfect, either, complicated by parenting responsibilities and the imposing presence of John’s ex, Georgette (Julianne Moore).
It’s enticing to see a Gerwig character taking on such adult responsibility on screen, a neat progression from the characters she played (and co-wrote) so beautifully in Frances Ha and Mistress America. But alas, Rebecca Miller’s new movie is more Lola Versus than vintage Gerwig/Baumbach. It opens shakily, with exposition dumping and a strangely sour, hostile best-friend performance from Bill Hader, and if Miller writes some good lines (“I’m genuinely locked out of my apartment, but I am in love with you”) and good possibly-fake academic disciplines (“Ficto-Critical Anthropology”), she doesn’t seem to know how to cut them together for comedy. Early on, Hawke’s character appears in a contentious, public academic discussion with another professor who turns out to be his wife, but Miller doesn’t find a sharp way of revealing this turn, and misses the laugh. And it takes a certain resistance to comic timing to cast Hader and Maya Rudolph as husband and wife only to have them look vaguely-to-extremely irritated for the entire movie.
Gerwig is, as usual, a warm and endearing presence: a little Diane Keaton, a little Alyson Hannigan, and her own semi-screwball energy. Hawke, too, is so clearly operating within his established persona that the movie almost becomes a mash-up: Frances Ha beat-matched with Before Midnight. But in the end, Maggie’s Plan has the shruggy-farce feel of late-period Woody Allen, with inconsequential ironic turns and situations that aren’t quite funny and aren’t quite affecting, either. It’s a very New Yorky sort of a miss, but a miss nonetheless.