Greta Gerwig is perhaps the most underrated actress working in Hollywood today. A blond beauty with a grace and sweetness that makes her feel like she stepped straight out of the 1920s flapper era and into a present-day world that doesn’t know how to handle her sparkling personality, she has lit up the silver screen with a string of Woody Allen-esque indies for the past six years.
Track down “Frances Ha” or “Mistress America” to see her at her best, but Gerwig has a terrific little movie in theatres right now called “Maggie’s Plan,” which has some really interesting things to say about marriage, adultery and parenting. The fact that it centers around a New York City woman in her early 30s named Maggie (Gerwig) who wants to have a baby so badly that she’ll artificially inseminate herself with the sperm of an old acquaintance and not hold him accountable to stay in the child’s life may make it sound like typical Hollywood amorality, but in fact its twists and turns wind up making it a surprisingly moral film by the time all the issues are resolved. Its morally complex plot and clever banter should make it great and Dateworthy viewing for adults.
Written and directed by Rebecca Miller, the daughter of legendary “Death of a Salesman” writer Arthur Miller, “Maggie’s Plan” has the witty dialogue and lovingly drawn characters of Allen at his best. As noted, Maggie is a single woman who is concerned that she’s never maintained a romantic relationship longer than six months and is afraid that her chance at motherhood is passing her by.
Her best friend Tony (Bill Hader) is an ex-boyfriend from college, and she spends a good deal of her time hanging out with him and his young child. His wife Felicia (Maya Rudolph) is fine with their friendship, but Maggie feels alone and decides the only way to ensure she’ll have a child is to ask a gourmet pickle maker she knew in college and has become a success. Despite the pickle maker being on the climb financially, Tony feels that the insemination and choice to raise the baby entirely alone are the wrong decisions.
Just as she’s about to inseminate herself with a sperm sample, Maggie is interrupted by a visit from John (Ethan Hawke), a married writer who met her at the college they both work at, and who is feeling utterly harried by his cold wife Georgette (Julianne Moore), who is more successful than he is and is incredibly demanding. John shows up, confesses his love to Maggie and they have mostly off-camera sex – leading to a jump three years in the future, where Maggie and John are now married and the parents of a young girl.
Maggie wants to make her marriage to John work, but notices he’s maintained unusually strong friendship ties to Georgette (Julianne Moore) and pays more attention to his kids with her than to his and Maggie’s child. When Maggie meets Georgette and realizes she’s not quite the cold shrew that John has long described her to be, she feels incredible guilt and decides to hatch a plan to lure John back to Georgette and make his initial family intact again.
Of course, complications ensue from there, but “Maggie’s Plan” is to be commended strongly for its rare honesty about the wrongs perpetrated by adultery and for portraying a woman who wants to make things right again after realizing the error of her ways. The fact that she does so with wit and genuine heart, rather than heavy-handed moralizing, makes this movie even more special.
The film is rated R, but has extremely minimal foul language (about four F-words), classy way of discussing its morally difficult subject matter, and a sex scene that cuts away after barely showing a female nipple. The artificial insemination angle of the story is obviously problematic morally, but it mostly serves as merely the launching pad for the real story of Maggie’s affair, marriage and plan to set things right.
Amid a summer of blockbuster noise, I heartily recommend this movie to adults wishing for something a little more quiet and thoughtful, yet richly entertaining. It’s in limited release around the country now, but if it’s not in your area, “Maggie’s Plan” should make its video on demand and streaming debuts in another couple of months.