Greta Gerwig has built up a reputation in the indie world, largely through her collaborations with Noah Baumbach. The pairing has certainly been fruitful, as films like Frances Ha and Mistress America have proven. The premise of Maggie’s Plan sounds like it could be the latest in their collaborative fruit, but instead, Maggie’s Plan comes from writer/director Rebecca Miller, who seems to be trying to mimic a Baumbach film without actually creating one.
Maggie (Greta Gerwig), who works as a counselor at the New School, technically has a few plans. First, she intends to get pregnant without a partner. Instead, she has a donor lined up: Guy (Travis Fimmel), a self-described “pickle entrepreneur.” But when Maggie meets John (Ethan Hawke), a professor of “facto-critical anthropology” trying to become a novelist, she falls for him. Three years later, John’s divorced, Maggie and John are married, and the two have a daughter. Maggie finds herself unhappy raising their child and John’s children from his first marriage, while John works endlessly on his novel. Thus, a new plan: she plots with his ex-wife, Danish academic Georgette (Julianne Moore), to reset things.
In other words, it’s a classic Hollywood story: estranged spouses reconnect through circumstance. The twist is that the “other woman” is the one pushing the spouses back together. In theory, this should work, but it requires a strong comic center. Maggie is only partly there; she’s prone to the poor judgment of many of Gerwig’s other characters, but without the charm to compensate. The film is more than content to point out Maggie’s selfishness, which ends up keeping her from actively engaging in it in the first place.
It’s part of the larger problem with Maggie’s Plan; it takes what should be a zany concept and neuters it. It creates unique behavior and terms, like John’s particular field, but fails to make the most of its oddities. It wants the quirk of an indie comedy without the level of commitment to make the quirk work. It’s a plan as doomed as, well, Maggie’s.