‘I love movies like this’

Greta Ger­wig strikes the right notes in a win­ning per­for­mance

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - RICHARD ROEPER Chicago Sun-Times

Re­becca Miller’s “Mag­gie’s Plan” is a neatly wrapped gift for ev­ery Woody Allen fan who misses the days of “An­nie Hall,” “Man­hat­tan” and “Han­nah and Her Sis­ters.”

It’s a fine brew, equal parts cyn­i­cal and whim­si­cal, dark and sunny. It’s fairly slight but nearly great.

I love movies like this. Movies where we eaves­drop on smart, self-in­volved, deeply flawed and con­sis­tently in­ter­est­ing peo­ple as they fall in love, be­tray one an­other, lament sit­u­a­tions en­tirely of their own mak­ing and pretty much re­mind us of peo­ple WE know — in­clud­ing our­selves.

Writer-di­rec­tor Miller (“The Pri­vate Lives of Pippa Lee,” “The Bal­lad of Jack and Rose”) usu­ally traf­fics in weight­ier dra­matic ma­te­rial, but she shows a deft touch for sly, borderline screw­ball com­edy here.

Greta Ger­wig has a spe­cific range of screen pres­ence — there’s a lit­tle bit of Diane Keaton, a lit­tle bit of Judy Hol­l­i­day and her own sin­gu­lar style — which can be charm­ing as all get-out in some films (“Frances Ha,” “Green­berg”) and ir­ri­tat­ing in oth­ers (“Mis­tress Amer­ica”). She gives one of her most win­ning per­for­mances here, strik­ing just the right notes in play­ing a young woman with good in­ten­tions but some re­ally bad no­tions of how to carry out those in­ten­tions.

Ger­wig’s Mag­gie is sin­gle, ap­proach­ing 30 and yearn­ing to be a mother. The guy she chooses to be the bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther is lit­er­ally named Guy (Travis Fim­mel), and he’s one of the strangest, fun­ni­est and most lik­able char­ac­ters in any film this year. Guy is a big, goofy, so­cially awk­ward but ef­fort­lessly charm­ing pickle ven­dor — yes, pickle ven­dor — who is more than happy to com­ply when Mag­gie asks him for some sperm.

But be­fore Mag­gie’s plan can kick into gear, there’s a huge com­pli­ca­tion, i.e., Ethan Hawke’s John, a “ficto-crit­i­cal an­thro­pol­o­gist” and writer who is go­ing through a per­sonal and pro­fes­sional midlife cri­sis.

John’s wife, Ge­or­gette (Ju­lianne Moore, hi­lar­i­ous), is a tow­er­ing in­tel­lect who speaks in a vaguely Dan­ish ac­cent that sounds like she’s im­i­tat­ing a vil­lain in a Pixar movie. Ge­or­gette ne­glects John in favour of her chil­dren and her ca­reer, so when Mag­gie takes spec­tac­u­lar in­ter­est in John’s work­ing man­u­script and finds his clever in­sights to be, well, clever, it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore these two tum­ble into bed and maybe fall in love.

Bill Hader and Maya Ru­dolph are won­der­ful as Mag­gie’s best friends, who of course ex­ist mainly to com­ment on Mag­gie’s life, be there for Mag­gie when she falls apart, tell Mag­gie to get her life to­gether — and, oh yes, just oc­ca­sion­ally fo­cus on their own prob­lems.

We also get na­tional trea­sure Wal­lace Shawn as Kliegler, be­cause movies like this need to have ac­tors such as Wal­lace Shawn play­ing char­ac­ters with names such as Kliegler.

Miller is a New Yorker through and through, and through­out the film she finds fresh an­gles on the city. For once we see parks, cam­puses, side streets and sky­line shots we haven’t seen in a hun­dred other New York-set films.

The cast­ing is per­fect. Ethan Hawke is vir­tu­ally peer­less when it comes to play­ing a cer­tain kind of Peter Pan, the scruffy, good­look­ing guy in the Army jacket who is great at se­duc­ing women but not so great at stay­ing with them. The kind of dad who is wor­shipped by the younger child while the older one is start­ing to catch on to Dad’s bull----.

Ju­lianne Moore’s Ge­or­gette could have been a car­i­ca­ture, were it not for a screen­play that in­cludes some sur­pris­ing re­veals about Ge­or­gette, and a big, funny per­for­mance.

And I told ya I loved the Pickle Guy. The Pickle Guy should get his own movie.

SONY PIC­TURES CLAS­SICS

Ethan Hawke and Greta Ger­wig take an adul­ter­ous walk in “Mag­gie’s Plan.”

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