Confounding narrative, tepid romantic chemistry hamper ‘Maggie’s Plan’

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Grade: C+

“Maggie’s Plan,” directed by Rebecca Miller, is an out-of-control movie about control. Maggie Hardin (Greta Gerwig) wants a baby — no sex, strings or spouse attached. The uncomfortable, unsatisfying and unrelatable film follows Maggie through her convoluted schemes in life and love to make that dream of single motherhood into a reality.

Maggie is a 30-something living and working in New York City without any defining characteristics beyond her serious need for a baby and a serious desire to do it on her own. She changes her tune when she meets John Hardin (Ethan Hawke), a dashing “ficto-critical anthropologist” and aspiring novelist. Their friendship blooms until the two strike up an affair, for which John divorces his wife, the brilliant and ice-cold academic Georgette (Julianne Moore).

Two years later, Maggie and John’s affair has produced the child she always dreamed of. But Maggie is unhappy. John spends too much time working on his novel and remains alarmingly close with his ex-wife, and Maggie seems to wish that she had stuck with her original plan to become a parent all on her own. With the help of her two best friends Tony (Bill Hader) and Felicia (Maya Rudolph), Maggie concocts a gallingly manipulative plan to reunite John and his ex-wife, and at the same time fulfill her goal of being a single mother, in a childish pipe-dream of control.

“Maggie’s Plan” — just like Maggie’s plan — is poorly made and confusing. The film’s premise is ridiculous in every single way, and there’s an odd discrepancy between the way in which the film presents itself and its actual content. “Maggie’s Plan” is billed as a comedy about a cute, quirky woman who wants nothing more than to raise her baby. Yet it isn’t sweet, but gruesome: A man’s former mistress tries to manipulate her world so her now-husband cheats on her with his ex-wife and she can be free to raise their baby on her own. Perplexingly, the film ignores this ugly reality to revel in Maggie’s indecision, as if it’s revealing some sort of grand truth about modernity or moral relativism or marriage. (Hint: It’s not.)

Beyond its faux-profundity, the film is just unorganized. “Maggie’s Plan” has no dominant tone, dancing instead on the border between comedy and tragedy. It’s “Unfaithful” meets “Amelie” or Woody Allen meets Wes Anderson, a perverse balancing act in the worst way. It revels in self-conscious quirkiness — that kind of cringey-cutesy “adorkable” alternativeness that makes some people hate Zooey Deschanel.

What’s more, “Maggie’s Plan” glosses over important details in its own plot — most notably, Maggie’s and John’s love affair. The film’s ungraceful transition from friendship to troubled marriage buries the passion that drove John to leave his wife in the first place, ratcheting up the already high degree of absurdity that characterizes “Maggie’s Plan.” It’s a slip that might be ignored if the film had some sort of saving grace to charm the audience, but none exists.

For the most part, the acting is poor. Hawke and Gerwig have no sexual or romantic chemistry.

The unaware viewer might surmise that “Maggie’s Plan” is a film about adult friendships, rather than a series of affairs that leaves two families reeling. Julianne Moore, Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph are the film’s saving graces, playing brutal and complex (Moore) as well as funny (Hader and Rudolph) characters to balance out lackluster performances on both Gerwig’s and Hawke’s parts.

“Maggie’s Plan,” thanks to an outlandish plot and uninspired acting, offers little insight into the complexities, difficulties or rewards of either romance or child-rearing. Seeking to shed light on the interwoven power and control dynamics driving adult relationships, “Maggie’s Plan” simply plunges viewers into a deeper darkness of confusion. Maybe next time, Maggie can plan not to be so horrible.

Contact Sarah Coduto at [email protected].