MAGGIE'S PLAN. Starring: Greta Gerwig, Travis Fimmel, Julianne Moore, Ethan Hawke, Bill Hader, and Maya Rudolph. Directed by Rebecca Miller. Rated M (Coarse language, mature themes and brief nudity). 99 min.

This American romantic drama-comedy is about a single woman, who decides to have a baby, and finds herself falling in love with a married man. It is based on an original story by Karen Rinaldi, and is written and directed by Rebecca Miller, the daughter of the playwright, Arthur Miller.

An independent and determined young New Yorker, Maggie (Greta Gerwig), decides to have a surrogate baby by a former college friend (Travis Fimmel), who she thinks would be an unsuitable father. Maggie wants to remain single, but yearns to have a child.

Maggie is eager to control her own life, and perfectly happy to control the lives of others to get what she wants. Her sense of control, however, evaporates when she meets and falls in love with John Harding (Ethan Hawke), an academic in the field of "Ficto-Critical Anthropology". He is author of a published book, pretentiously titled, "Rituals of Commodity Fetishism".

John is married to a tough, intimidating and academically successful wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore), and their marriage is faltering. Maggie finds herself responsive to John's ardent attentions, and she marries him, only to find three years later that she falls out of love with him. To regain her independence and lost control, she concocts a plan to re-unite John with Georgette, who she thinks was better suited to him than she is. To do that, she uses the help of two of her best friends (Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph), who scrap constantly with each other, but are still together.

This off-beat, quirky comedy skims over serious moral issues, but there are good performances by its three main players (Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, and Julianne Moore). The pace of the comedy is brisk, and the characters of Maggie, Georgette, and John work well together. Maggie is idiosyncratic in a very natural way; Georgette is absorbingly neurotic; and the character of John nicely captures the introspective academic, who finds it hard to lay self-interest aside.

The energy of the movie is helped by a sometimes-witty script. The situations the three main characters find themselves in are not very coherent, and the comedy at times seems contrived. The film ends up being a superficial mixture of cynicism and whimsy, with bright and dark moments of drama associated with it. Its apparent playfulness spins off against the personal insecurities of the characters who are depicted. In many respects, the film reminds one of a Woody Allen movie in the extent to which it self-consciously philosophises and intellectualises.

The film explores a range of significant issues like the difference between motherhood and parenting, how close, permanent relationships can ever be achieved and whether one really wants them anyway, surrogacy, and what sustains stability in relationships. It leaves most of these issues hanging in the balance without resolving them, and the mixture of accumulating personal crises affects the pace of the film. But there are worthy messages to be heard as the film winds itself to an ambiguous conclusion. It teaches us, for instance, that the appearance of control can often be illusory, and unchecked motivations frequently lead to unfortunate outcomes, and finally it tells us (entertainingly) that messy relationship can be almost impossible to sort out.

This movie depicts the eccentricities of flawed characters well, but it is by no means conventionally romantic in its style. Rebecca Miller, the Director of the film, projects recognisable types with flair, she effectively mocks academic pretence, and the eccentricities she paints are engagingly odd. But the film is mired by its own uncertainty: it completely fails to resolve issues about the real purpose of close human relationships, and the moral issues that surround them.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Sony Pictures

Released July 7, 2016


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