Greta Gerwig is the 21st century’s Diane Keaton — which isn’t exactly a compliment. Defined by a plucky, flighty, slightly frazzled woman-child adorability, as well as by unconventionally weird, messy outfits (sleeveless sweaters over collared shirts buttoned to the top, flannel dresses and heavy scarves), Gerwig is the queen of cutie-pie hipsterdom, and she continues to parlay that off-kilter persona to grating comic ends in Maggie’s Plan.
Rebecca Miller’s tonally uneven film stars Gerwig as Maggie, who works at NYC’s New School as a business adviser for student artists, and who falls in love with “ficto-critical anthropologist” and author John (Ethan Hawke). Their relationship is consummated on the very same night that she artificially inseminates herself (personally, in a bathtub) with the seed of a beardy pickle entrepreneur named Guy (Travis Fimmel). Three years later, she’s the mother of a daughter supposedly conceived with John, who is no happier in these new circumstances than he was in his previous — he recently left his intellectual German wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore), because of her self-absorbed coldness (and, perhaps, because her hair’s always in a severe high bun and she wears nothing but animal-hair shirts).
Though initially referring to Maggie’s desire to have a child on her own, Maggie’s Plan‘s title in fact concerns her efforts to get John and Georgette back together — a scheme predicated on the idea that she and John are miserable and going to break up anyway, and thus a reunion between the divorcés will solve everyone’s problems in a neat-and-tidy fashion. Unfortunately, while that turn of events seems like a prime launching point for absurdist nonsense, Miller’s film lurches between sincerity and inanity, to the point that the only real laughs come from Moore’s austere, heavily accented academia-speak (to John, as a come-on: “No one unpacks commodity fetishism like you”) and the infrequent appearance of a big-haired Bill Hader as Maggie’s straight-talking friend.
Miller’s direction is too staid and the pace is too sluggish to generate the sort of ribald momentum that might give life to her premise. That, in turn, strands Hawke in a me-first role that never proves as cartoonish as it should be, and results in an emphasis on Gerwig close-ups in which the actress comes across as a discombobulated ditz — albeit a smart and control-freak-ish one, or so the script unconvincingly tells us — whose every problem is of her own clueless, selfish making.