“Maggie’s Plan” Review: Derivative Material Made Fresh

Courtesy of Sony Pictures
Courtesy of Sony Pictures

In the narrative, Maggie’s Plan isn’t organized too well. However, as a film, Maggie’s Plan is organized near perfectly.

At its core concept, Maggie’s Plan seems to born out of a mediocre romantic comedy. And although it doesn’t advocate the defining of a person by their relationship, to some extent it does have the arc of a mediocre romantic comedy. However, if it is just a romantic comedy, it is an instant classic and an absolute capstone for the genre.

The story centers on the titular organizer Maggie (Greta Gerwig). She wants to have a baby and raise it as a single Mom, but that all changes when she meets John (Ethan Hawke), a superstar ficto-critical anthropologist. John is married to an anthropology professor at Columbia University named Georgette (Julianne Moore), but Maggie and John have an affair, and then a kid. They get married, but a few years into their marriage, Maggie is starting to have doubts, so she fixes a scheme to get John back together with Georgette.

So the first thing to note here is that this movie has an all-star cast. In addition to the previously cited actors, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolf and Travis Fimmel all have supporting roles in the film. And while the supporting cast would typically be a waste in a movie like this, all of the characters serve a big purpose, both in the narrative and for the wellness of the movie. It’s like someone made a list of all of my favorite actors and put them into a movie and it was magic.

A big reason for this is that each character is the main character of their own story. That might seem like an obvious note, but it’s really easy, especially in a romantic comedy, for a character’s entire purpose is defined by their relationship to the main character. However, each character here has their own unique idiosyncrasies and their own priorities in life. And especially for the main trio, a whole new movie could be created from their perspective. The film ultimately rests on Maggie because she has the most active role, but John and Georgette both get ample development. More importantly though, everybody seems human. A lot of the characters make mistakes and are uniquely manipulative, but they all seem human.

From there, it’s just simple addition. All-star actors + all-star characterizations = all-star performances. The dynamics between any of the pairs or group of characters in the movie are so well fleshed out. The performances all seem so natural, yet they are so energized and so focused. And because every scene seems to contain a different combination of actors, it’s all such a joy to watch. I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face.

Of course, a good portion of the success Maggie’s Plan enjoys is due to its lean screenplay. Based off of an unpublished novel by Karen Rinaldi and written by director Rebecca Miller, the screenplay doesn’t waste a second from start to finish. Where a lesser film would suffer due to redundancies and conveniences, Maggie’s Plan utilizes every moment and cuts out anything that doesn’t immediately serve the story. Immediately after Maggie and John have their affair (early in the movie), the film cuts to three years later. It doesn’t add a clarifying subtitle or even need to. Everybody has seen enough of these movies to know where it is headed. This movie takes something old and revamps it to make it feel new.

Finally, the piece that makes this whole puzzle come together is the brilliant camerawork. Instead of simply following the actors, the camera seems to have a mind of its own. It often cuts away from the actor speaking to see the other person’s listening face, or even to something that’s happening in the background. It moves to where the actors are going before it gets there and zooms or pans to great triumph. This all may seem a bit arbitrary and generic, but every single shot in this film is a masterpiece. It’s not overtly beautiful or overly stylized, but the framing always seems to perfectly emulate what the characters are thinking, or how they are subconsciously feeling.

All of these factors come together to make a very quirky yet laid back movie. It’s so much about the different characters and how they interact with each other, and everything else seems to sort of disappear. I know for a fact that some people will find this style a bit underwhelming, but to me it’s basically everything that I want in a film. It’s a very large movie that disguises itself as very unassuming, and the layers just keep building and building until it reaches its ultimate and satisfying conclusion. Again, I know that a lot of other people will have different preferences for how they’d like the film to operate, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Basically, it’s like the filmmakers made a movie just for me. I can’t wait to watch it over and over.

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