Greta Gerwig is on top form as a woman who must deal with her life plan going off the rails in Rebecca Miller’s neo-screwball comedy, Maggie’s Plan.
There is something therapeutic about watching Greta Gerwig’s characters in recent films. Perhaps it’s the fact that they are all going through some sort of quarter-life crisis which, being a 24-year-old writer in an industry that is arguably dying at an accelerating rate, resonates with me.
From Greenberg’s Florence, the heartbroken aspiring singer, Frances Ha’s couch-surfing dancer in Frances Ha, to Brooke’s self-aggrandising entrepreneur in Mistress America, Gerwig’s characters work through stressful situations, albeit increasingly middle class ones, with an odd cocktail of neuroticism, serenity and capability that infects and fills us with a peculiar sense of calmness. If Greta can get through it, so can we! This capability and calmness under pressure is explicitly exploited by everyone in Maggie’s Plan.
Gerwig plays a young, metropolitan woman who works at a university, helping creative students turn their ideas into viable business ventures. A bridge between art and commerce is how she describes her job. She has a plan to inseminate herself using a local pickle entrepreneur’s (yes, a pickle entrepreneur) sperm and raise a child by herself, because her relationships with men never seem to last.
Although she doesn’t realise it, that plan goes way off the rails the moment she meets Ethan Hawke’s self-involved academic, stuck in what he deems to be a loveless marriage with Julianne Moore’s highly intellectual and imposing Danish lecturer, Georgette. They bond over John’s novelistic efforts but soon the relationship grows from a literary one to a romantic one. Suddenly, Maggie’s titular plan devolves into many plans, including dealing with her and John’s toddler and the latter’s children by Georgette.
This stressful situation is compounded by John’s increasing self-centredness and collapse into his seemingly never-concluding novel. Like a modern-day Jane Austen’s Emma, she crafts another plan to reunite John with Georgette, believing them to have been a better fit from the start.
As readers may have gathered, Maggie’s Plan is unashamedly exploring middle-class ennui. Its protagonists are all in academia with ludicrous job titles, large flats in Brooklyn, amicable divorces and glorious coats (the film is set entirely in the winter seasons). But this is part of its appeal. The stakes aren’t meant to be high or even relatable, they’re meant to be enjoyable.
A lot of parallels can be drawn with another group of New Yorkers, who have jobs but also unlimited time to sit around, drink coffee and and work through their neuroses.
Like Friends, ( I was talking about Friends by the way) Maggie’s Plan is enjoyable because it’s aspirational. We all want to have intellectual jobs that somehow pay for large flats in trendy neighbourhoods and can sustain three kids’ lives. We obviously can’t but Maggie’s Plan helps us fantasise.
That’s not to say that there is an absence of depth or meaning to the film. On the contrary. In one surprisingly moving, and unexpected, scene, John asks Maggie about her parents. Maggie says they married young but drifted apart and serendipitously met again many years later at a party – Maggie was conceived then but her parents didn’t stay together.
Gerwig’s delivery, usually so innocent and positive, packs a surprisingly emotional punch and that story of unplanned but unsustained love resonates throughout the rest of the film, leaving the audience with a more thoughtful experience than they would’ve perhaps expected.