Every once in a while, I get a cruel reminder that not even the indie world is safe from bad movies.
This year's reminder is Maggie's Plan! It's a "romantic" "comedy" starring two of my favorite actors that still manages to be artificial and unnecessary.
Early on in the movie, two characters talk and walk down a hall. The camera watches the conversation, as it should when giving the audience a standard look into the proceedings. Suddenly! The camera swivels wildly like it's being dropped, swinging with the finesse of a paraplegic monkey, until it looks out a nearby window at a bench down below.
"THIS IS WHERE THE NEXT SCENE WILL BE", Maggie's Plan screams just before the next scene begins in that very location.
The whole movie is as obvious as that bit of cinematography. Every narrative turn, dialogue parallel, and character change is so clearly signposted or explained that there's no real reason to keep watching it. You could receive a bullet point list of the first few plot points and work out what happens next instead of paying to see the movie- you'd have more fun, and you'd probably be spot on.
Hell, let's make it easier: "This is Maggie. This is that plan of hers!" I explain to you. "Now write a movie, and make it quirky". If you have any knowledge of cinematic clichés, I'd bet money on you writing Maggie's Plan exactly as it is.
In all seriousness: I saw Maggie's Plan because Ethan Hawke and Greta Gerwig are two of my favorite working actors, and it was the movie's cast that kept me in the seat whenever I considered leaving.
The film follows Maggie, a lonely girl who wants a baby. On the cusp of artificial insemination, she falls in love with Ethan Hawke typecast #9, who is married. They start an affair, ending his marriage with scary Danish Julianne Moore and beginning his life with Maggie. After she gets the kid she wanted, Maggie falls out of love with her new husband, and concocts a plan to get Hawke to return to his old marriage so she won't be blamed for the divorce (all in the trailer, no spoilers).
Like The Parent Trap, but way more morally iffy.
What BOTH The Parent Traps have over Maggie's Plan is character attachment and self-awareness. All of the couples in this film come off as annoyingly selfish- not because they are, but because they're not developed beyond their motives.
Concerning self-awareness: Maggie's Plan tries to be sweetly obvious, which the direction accomplishes- though it's light on the sweet and heavy on the obvious. But there are many moments where it tries to pull of faux depth and fails. This happens most through forced dialogue: when a movie is this surface level, you can't throw in speeches that sound like a high school student trying to emulate Dostoevsky and pretend you have a profound film now.
Seems many fell for it though, considering the film's critical success. Don't trust the hype, it's neither romantic nor funny.
If Maggie's Plan isn't a total loss, it's because Ethan Hawke, Greta Gerwig, Julianne Moore, and show-stealy Bill Hader are having fun. Plain and simple.
Rarely terrible but always conventional, Maggie's Plan was hovering around the two star range- until halfway through I guessed the movie's ending and it played out exactly as I predicted. Then I was a little more disappointed.