The Weltanschauung of New York’s upper-middle intelligentsia is almost custom built for a good run- a-round comedy of manners. Rebecca Miller’s latest film, Maggie’s Plan, is one more addition to a considerable canon of light, loving satire that laughs at the pretensions and follies of the over-educated as they luxuriate in so-called ‘high-class problems’. It’s a delightful movie that makes conscious nods to Shakespeare’s comic contrivances and is similar in spirit to Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young.
Similarities to Baumbach’s work are intensified by Greta Gerwig’s central place in the cast (she has, to date, starred in three of his most recent films), but here the tone is less caustic and the film lacks the slight trace of melancholy that informs some of Baumbach’s back catalogue. The plot concerns Maggie (Greta Gerwig) and, believe it or not, her ‘plan’: to wit, the desire to have a child on her own using genetic material donated by the bright but eccentric Guy (Travis Fimmel). Matters become somewhat more screwball when Maggie begins to fall for the faculty heart-throb (and total “panty-melter”) at the college where she works.
John (Ethan Hawke) and Maggie begin to strike up a relationship which becomes increasingly significant when it is revealed that all is not well in John’s marriage to the brilliant but difficult Georgette (Julianne Moore) – a fellow academic with whom he is more caretaker than cared-for. From this opening premise, the film expands into a fanciful but well-controlled look at neurosis in amidst the pressures of marriage and children. Its pacing is spot-on and the cast is superb, their performances smart and well-observed. The writing is often sharp and never less than charming.
Overall, this is a difficult film to dislike – a strong piece of work which will only disappoint those who are tired of the navel-gazing implicit to First World problems. But the thing about those First World problematics (n’est pas?), is that they do tend to be pretty funny when gazed at with the right comic lens. Maggie’s Plan is over-educated satirical skewering at its finest – to be enjoyed at leisure, between symposia perhaps, or other perambulatory Manhattan-style discussions of crypto-narratives in the modern family unit.