I had trouble finding a cinema that was featuring Maggie’s Plan. I live in rural upstate New York, and there is a cursory Regal Cinema in Ithaca attached to the mall; a small AMC Theatre in Elmira. But Maggie’s Plan was only showing at little Cinemopolis, an independent theatre in collegetown Ithaca right off of the student commons.
Maggie, played by a cheery and comfortable Greta Gerwig (Francis Ha), is an intellectual, a teacher, advisor, and self-proclaimed “bridge between art and commerce”. She has also despaired of ever finding a suitable mate. Deciding she would like to raise a child on her own anyway, she selects a sperm donor. The chosen man is a lovable, painfully awkward Travis Fimmel (The Baytown Outlaws), a pickle entrepreneur. I’ll say it again. A pickle entrepreneur. He is a mathematics savant and as brilliant a business owner as he is a terrible conversationalist. Fimmel was arguably the best part of the film for me.
Though there is something in this quirky mostly-comedy for everyone, subscribers to academia will find it especially funny. Ethan Hawke (Boyhood, 10,000 Saints) and Julianne Moore (Still Alice) play a pair of brilliant scholars; he is a ficto-critical anthropologist, she, an equally intimidating Danish writer and student of the human condition. Their marriage is faltering among the heavily oppressive waves of Harding’s commitment to his novel. Enter Maggie. She happens to love his novel, and he loves that she loves his novel. Uh-oh.
While in the dark theatre, I kept trying to categorize the movie. Was it a modern re-telling of a Shakespearean comedy? It could also be a modern-day comedy of manners; the ultimate humiliation; cuckolding, is even in place, the classic genders involved have simply been reversed. Moore and Hawke are sufficiently ridiculous, and generously play along with the comedy-as-corrective device. I can say this without malice because I am a pretentious snob and a writer. I felt duly chastised, and knew it to be a good thing.
Here’s the rub. Maggie’s Plan isn’t enough of any one flavor to be an actual flavor. It’s not quite a comedy of manners in the truest sense, it’s not about artificial insemination or single parenthood, it’s not really even about a love triangle. It’s not about marriage or infidelity. None of the consequences are dire enough to make it a cautionary tale. It doesn’t even pass the Bechdel feminist plot test; a scene featuring a female character talking to another female character about something that isn’t a man.
My husband, who went to see it too, commented as he left the theatre that he felt he’d been “fucked with”. To play devil’s advocate, I argued that life feels like that sometimes. I also feel strongly that modern audiences have so trained storytellers to produce fare like this; something that has it all, that they comply without thinking. Attractive protagonists. Relatable content, but not relevant issues. Something that won’t really offend, but is also too spicy to be attributed to Nora Ephron.
Maggie’s Plan features brilliant performances by all, interesting music, and gorgeous set and costume design. I liked it. I still probably won’t buy it.