Maggie's plan to have a baby on her own is derailed when she falls in love with John, a married man, destroying his volatile marriage to the brilliant and impossible Georgette. But one daughter and three years later, Maggie is out of love and in a quandary: what do you do when you suspect your man and his ex wife are actually perfect for each other?
Written by Don Drummond & Arthur Stanley Reid
Performed by Baba Brooks
Courtesy of Push Music / Treasure Isle
Courtesy of Sanctuary Records Group Ltd., a BMG Company
All rights administered by BMG Rights Management (US) LLC See more »
Among many other things, the best dialogue-driven character studies can create a sense of real connectedness between the viewer and the people depicted on screen. If well narrated, those films can serve as a mirror to your own experiences or open up new perspectives on life in general. Directors that have managed to achieve this in the past like (the early) Woody Allen or Noah Baumbach are also often named as references when it comes to Rebecca Miller's latest film Maggie's Plan.
Indeed, when you saw the trailer, you got the feeling a new Baumbach is coming up: set in New York, starring Greta Gerwig playing a Gerta Gerwig-character and a plot revolving around existential questions of a group of well-educated, slightly quirky people. I love all of these elements and mixed with a cast including Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore I was very excited to see this film.
However, the aspects of indie films I mentioned above which I deem so important are all missing here. Once you have accepted the awkward premise (which is far-fetched enough) that the protagonist Maggie (Greta Gerwig) desperately wants to reunite her husband John (Ethan Hawke) with his ex-wife (Julianne Moore), the film misses all its chances to handle the characters' issues with precision and depth. This starts with the poor writing which does include some amusing lines and interesting insights (my favourite being John's take on unborn babies) but still fails to make the characters' motivations and intentions appear reasonable. Despite the fact that they are always quite short, films like The Squid and the Whale never feel rushed. In Maggie's Plan we see many rapid developments and turns in attitude that are often hard to make sense of.
Apart from problems in the script, the film suffers from the way it is directed. One major element is a trope that is more than predominant in recent cinema which comes down to a formula many directors seem to have internalised deeply: Shaky camera = Authenticity. In order to immerse the viewer within a scene, many films employ this technique, however in many cases in such a exaggerated manner that it becomes a parody of itself (Exhibit A: The Hunger Games; Counterexample (how it should be done): Children of Men). The same is the case in Maggie's Plan. It is the film's ambition to live up to its predecessors by offering a perspective that feels true to life. But unnecessary zoom-ins, shakes and pans occasionally disrupt the viewing experience. Films that rely on quiet, emotional scenes like this one benefit from a rather still, observant depiction, so that the viewer likely forgets that there is a camera.
Having said all this, I still consider Maggie's Plan an average film which is mostly due to the cast. The actors do what they can to give the weird script at least some emotional depth (even though I add Julianne Moore's choice of accent to the list of things that bewildered me). My harsh critique is probably due to high expectations. But I just didn't assume they were that high, as I would have been happy, if some main elements that separate these kinds of films from major blockbusters had been displayed.
My main concern with this review is to counter the many voices comparing this film to indie masterpieces like Frances Ha or Annie Hall. Maggie's Plan is not even close to being in the same league. To quote Pulp Fiction, it is not even the same sport.
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