Life, fate un­con­trol­lable in an en­joy­able dram­edy

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - MOVIES - By Katie Walsh

Re­becca Miller, writer and di­rec­tor of “Mag­gie’s Plan,” seems to have a sixth sense for know­ing just what her au­di­ence might like. If you’re in­ter­ested in a dram­edy star­ring Greta Ger­wig about a young, sin­gle woman look­ing to be­come a mother, chances are the cameo from riot grrl Kath­leen Hanna will de­light you (Hanna’s hus­band, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, is the mu­sic su­per­vi­sor). Miller’s film isn’t try­ing to be all things to all people; it’s just try­ing to be the right thing for spe­cific people.

Based on a story by Karen Ri­naldi, “Mag­gie’s Plan” is much more than just about a woman con­sid­er­ing sin­gle moth­er­hood. It’s about the in­er­tia of events after choices are made, about try­ing to put a spoke in the wheel of fate, which might only mo­men­tar­ily de­rail destiny. Mag­gie (Ger­wig) is a med­dler, and her plans don’t al­ways go off with­out a hitch.

Mag­gie is plan­ning to be­come preg­nant via a sperm donor, “bor­row­ing the genes” of ac­quain­tance Guy (Travis Fim­mel), an ar­ti­sanal pickle en­tre­pre­neur. She wants to make the choice while she still has op­tions. But she meets John (Ethan Hawke), a dis­grun­tled an­thro­pol­o­gist in a dif­fi­cult mar­riage to fel­low aca­demic Ge­or­gette (Ju­lianne Moore). When John and Mag­gie meet, she en­cour­ages him to pur­sue his dream of writ­ing a novel, and soon an af­fair, baby, di­vorce and mar­riage are in the mix.

But the film is not con­cerned with tor­rid af­fairs or ran­corous splits. “Mag­gie’s Plan” takes on the com­pli­ca­tions that hap­pen post-hap­pily ever after. Most ro­man­tic drame­dies MPAA rat­ing: R for lan­guage and brief sex­u­al­ity Run­ning time: 1:38 Opens: Fri­day ex­am­ine the de­tails lead­ing up to ma­jor life mile­stones, but Miller’s film ex­plores how the dra­mas of re­la­tion­ships are never-end­ing, con­stantly in flux. When John turns out to be a self­cen­tered dilet­tante, Mag­gie re­con­sid­ers her choice.

Both Mag­gie and Ge­or­gette are highly aware of the so­cially as­cribed roles of the scorned woman and the other woman, and in their re­sis­tance to th­ese la­bels Miller ef­fec­tively un­der­mines th­ese stereo­types. John seems to be the vil­lain, but ping-pong­ing be­tween the two women, he doesn’t have enough agency to be truly bad.

The preter­nat­u­rally charm­ing Ger­wig works within the bound­aries of her es­tab­lished per­sona, but Miller fleshes out the back story of Mag­gie, of­fer­ing cul­tur­ally spe­cific rea­sons for her can-do ca­pa­bil­ity and the aver­sion to con­fronta­tion that mo­ti­vates her schem­ing.

Moore deftly nav­i­gates a role in which she has to be at once “glacial and ter­ri­fy­ing” as well as broadly hu­mor­ous. Cos­tume de­signer Mal­go­sia Turzan­ska ex­pertly dis­tin­guishes the two women vis­ually: Mag­gie dresses like a 1940s school marm, while Ge­or­gette sports a uni­form of com­pli­cated clogs and fuzzy sweaters.

Fim­mel is a wel­come sur­prise as Guy, giv­ing the char­ac­ter a stilted and earnest charm. A for­mer model who has cleaved his way into TV and movie star­dom swing­ing swords on “Vik­ings” and in the forth­com­ing “War­craft,” here he is given the chance to prove his bona fides.

The writ­ing crack­les, and Miller doesn’t waste time getting right at the meat of the story.

The char­ac­ters speak as forthrightly as you might wish you could, and some are de­li­ciously un­cen­sored, like Mag­gie’s friend Tony (Bill Hader). Shock­ingly, the aca­demics ac­tu­ally sound like aca­demics, lan­guage which is so of­ten bun­gled in movies.

“Mag­gie’s Plan” is sweet but an­a­lyt­i­cal and prag­matic in its ap­proach to ex­plor­ing the ways of nav­i­gat­ing part­ner­ship, par­ent­hood and per­sonal val­ues.

What Mag­gie re­al­izes is that for all the plan­ning in the world, there’s no messing with fate. Whether the idea is ter­ri­fy­ing or a re­lief, life al­ways finds its own way.


Greta Ger­wig and Ethan Hawke in “Mag­gie’s Plan.”

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