Family Ties

maggies-plan-screencap

Maggie’s Plan is what happens when a “romcom” grows up and becomes a true romantic comedy, a more mature, more charming version of the usual genre trappings.

The film centers around Maggie (Greta Gerwig), who breaks up a marriage between a head-in-the-books writer (Ethan Hawke as John) and a fiercely intelligent academic (Julianne Moore as Georgette). Rather than focusing on the drama of that situation, the film only spends about 30 minutes on the beginnings of their affair before fast-forwarding instead to what is happening several years after Maggie and John marry. This is a shrewd move for a number of reasons. It stops the film from tipping over into tears and screaming and steers it towards the question at its heart: What does it mean to be a family?

Maggie and John have one child, a daughter, while John and Georgette have a daughter and a son. As we watch the three adults attempt to co-parent—the difficulty of which is perfectly encapsulated in a few all-too-real scenes set inside a jam-packed minivan—questions are raised about how we create a modern family without strict adherence to the nuclear family structure. The film is deeply invested in questions about where biology fits into parenting and how families assembled with multiple partners solidify themselves. There are real moments of teenage anger and dysfunctional family dinners that ask the viewers to think about their own roles in family dynamics, while the sharp, never lazy screenplay makes its point without adding in any unnecessary door slamming. But for all the insight, Maggie is still taking on a “second shift” that, at times, was difficult to watch. Still, she was able to voice her concerns and consistently advocated for herself, which was a nice way to highlight both the realism and the hopes of this film.

As the movie continues and Maggie and John’s relationship begins to dry up, Maggie hatches a plan to get John back together with Georgette, a plan which Georgette is on board with. This is a nice spin on the trope of a love affair breaking up a marriage. Here, a love affair is actually repairing one. I loved how shrewd and successful Georgette was, and I thought it was a smart touch to have her also be emotional and connected to her family, rather than acting as a clear-cut opposite to the mild, Midwestern Maggie. This is not a surprising development coming from writer-director Rebecca Miller, whose work frequently focuses on nuanced female characters. The depth in Georgette’s character more than made up for Julianne Moore’s questionable attempt at a Danish accent, a facet that becomes more a quirk of character than a distraction by the end of the film.

My one sticking point of the film was that John, who despite having not one but two women in the film be enamored of him, does not seem very charming (especially when compared to Maggie’s original option—a maybe-romance, maybe-not with the aptly named Guy, played by Travis Fimmel, full of a quiet charisma only heightened by his endearing job as a master pickle maker). The intellectual depth of John is clearly a pull for both women, and it would have been nice to see a few more moments where they were able to engage in a meaningful dialogue about his work. This would underscore the foundation of their relationships, much like the one rousing academic debate between John and Georgette does in the first half of the film.

Also worth noting are Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader, who play couple Felicia and Tony, an all-important pillar of support for Maggie. Well-sculpted by both the writing and the actors, they give comic relief to the film without going overboard and feeling like mere plot devices.

Maggie’s Plan is a smart film, focusing on essential questions about family rather than a whirlwind romance. Although the film is understated at times, the viewer gets everything they want at the end in a way that doesn’t feel gratuitous or showy. It’s the kind of romantic comedy you could watch a few times and still enjoy—not just for the nostalgia of a feel-good plotline, but for well-crafted characters, beautiful pacing, and surprising depth.

— Lauren Christiansen

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