Greta Gerwig has only worked with Woody Allen once in 2012’s To Rome with Love. However, almost every project Gerwig has taken on since then has felt like one of the legendary director’s pictures. From Frances Ha to Mistress America, Gerwig is drawn to projects with witty dialog, an offbeat tone, and complex females. In Rebecca Miller’s Maggie’s Plan, Gerwig portrays yet another character who easily could’ve come from Woody Allen’s mind. With that said, many of Allen’s recent films have been hit and miss. While Maggie’s Plan is probably an acquired taste, there is a lot to admire in this mixed bag, particularly our leading lady.
Gerwig plays the titular character, a single woman who decides to have a baby through artificial insemination. She gets the semen from an old college friend (Travis Fimmel), who isn’t looking for any commitment. Maggie’s plan changes when she has an affair with a married man named John (Ethan Hawke). Maggie quickly gets pregnant and John leaves his distant wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore). A few years down the line, Maggie and John appear happy with their daughter. Maggie even has a solid relationship with John’s children from his previous marriage. Alas, Maggie just isn’t content with her life and cooks up a scheme to get John back together with his ex.
Maggie’s Plan is wonderfully acted across the board, although Moore’s accent can become a little over-the-top. Miller’s screenplay is also sharp and clever, but the plot does occasionally drag. Even when the film is moving as a leisurely pace, though, the audience is always interested to see where the story will go. That’s largely because our central character is such a wild card and Gerwig hits all the right notes in the role. There are instances when it seems like Maggie has her life perfectly planned out. Other times, Maggie seemingly makes things up as she goes along.
Throughout the film, we’re not sure whether to root for Maggie or despise her. On one hand, she’s like a Shakespearean villain, constantly plotting and deceiving. On the other hand, she’s not a totally selfish person either. Maggie wants to see everything work out for the best, but her methods of getting everyone a happily ever after are questionable. Maggie’s ultimate plan is solely based on lies and keeping others in the dark. Let’s be honest, though, sometimes people are better off not knowing the truth.
Maggie’s Plan also features a subplot involving John attending to write a novel. He’s told that his manuscript is a bit of a mess, but there’s a potentially great book in it. The same could be said about this film. Maggie’s Plan is slow at times and some people may have a hard time sympathizing with such a controlling protagonist. However, this is a very compelling character study that asks some intriguing ethical questions. At the center of everything is Gerwig, who manages to light up the screen even when she’s playing a master of manipulation. Like it or not, at least we can all agree that Maggie’s Plan is a better movie about blended families than Mother’s Day.