Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Travis Fimmel, Ida Rohatyn, Wallace Shawn, Mina Sundwall, Jackson Frazer, Monte Greene
Written by: Rebecca Miller
Directed by: Rebecca Miller
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality
Running Time: 98
Date: 05/20/2016
IMDB

Maggie's Plan (2016)

2 Stars (out of 4)

In a Pickle

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

More so than most of my colleagues, I seem to have an inability to tolerate films that copy Woody Allen. I missed Maggie's Plan during its original run, and the largely appreciative reviews — in addition to its talented cast — made me want to catch up with it on Sony Pictures' new Blu-ray. I'm not glad I did. It's a movie about intellectual New Yorkers trying to work out their emotional problems through rationalization. When Allen did this, it was funny. It sounded like his brand of comedy, and he seemed to be at least vaguely aware of the conundrum of brain vs. heart.

Writer/director Rebecca Miller (director of Personal Velocity, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, and the daughter of playwright Arthur), introduces us to Maggie (Greta Gerwig) a frequently-described control freak who decides she wants to have a baby. She arranges for a donor, an earthy, dippy pickle maker named Guy (Travis Fimmel). Just as she's inserting his donated seed, ficto-critical anthropologist John (Ethan Hawke) knocks on her door. He's suffering in his marriage to the chilly, scholarly Georgette (Julianne Moore, with some kind of accent, maybe German?), and really wants to write a novel. Maggie is hooked; she thinks she can save him.

Suddenly, we get a smash cut to years later. John has divorced Georgette, has married Maggie, and a child has been born (the movie spends so precious little time on the children, it's difficult to keep them straight, or even to know how many there are). Maggie handles all the details of the day while John writes. Of course, no one is happy. Then Maggie meets Georgette for the first time and decides to get her and John back together. I'm not sure if this was supposed to be a funny idea, but it's kind of demented and it makes it seem as if Maggie ought to be checked into an institution.

Though all of these actors are highly skilled, they are all directed to a very high pitch, with much stressing and bitterness, and it made me want to reach for the aspirin. Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph are even here, as another unhappy couple, and they somehow can't raise a single laugh. Their entire purpose is, like in most romantic comedies, to be best friends and listen to the main characters gripe and to offer advice.

Miller's film looks and sounds good, and contains a few moments of New York atmosphere, as when Maggie takes a moment to check, and revel in the fact that, she has found an actual parking space, as well as some skating footage. But often Miller simply arranges her scenes as people talking in front of interesting backgrounds. I love movies about smart people hammering out problems, but there are two parts to that equation. Miller has the "smart" down, but has neglected the "people."

Sony's Blu-ray release comes with a Miller commentary track, a 15-minute making-of featurette, outtakes, a Q&A from Sundance, and a trailer for this and other Sony features. It also includes an optional digital copy.

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