New York is well known for its coffee. Heck, they even have an annual 3-day festival dedicated to celebrating the burgeoning amount of speciality blends available in the Big Apple. So perhaps it’s fitting that Maggie’s Plan, a New York-set indie romcom from Berlinale favourite writer/director Rebecca Miller, has so much in common with one of the city’s signature skinny lattes; it’s light, frothy, and far from satisfying.
Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is a thirtysomething college lecturer, and she’s single. But don’t worry kids, because she’s got a plan. Having convinced a local “pickle entrepreneur” (Travis Fimmel) – what else – to donate his sperm to her, she plans to have herself inseminated and thus birth the baby she believes will complete her life. When John (Ethan Hawke, languidly playing on his Boyhood persona), an artistically passionate professor and co-worker catches Maggie’s eye though, she deviates from her original idea, and embarks on a new found romance with him, thus destroying his marriage to the brilliant but volatile Georgette (Julianne Moore, channelling Cruella de Vil).
Miller’s sententious direction smacks of a tasteless Noah Baumbach/Woody Allen amalgam; Michael Rohatyn’s buoyant score supplemented by a typically quirky depiction of New York living, where everyone occupies unfathomably spacious apartments that are bathed in the lustrous light of metropolitan idealism.Comparatively, it’s in her writing where the filmmaker proves to be creatively enterprising, renouncing typical narrative convention by flashing forward three years after the initial declarations of love, to find Maggie and John now living together with a newborn daughter. Immediately, however, we can see the strain this new plan has placed on both their lives – the writing, sadly, shuns subtlety too. And all that follows is a plodding cycle of relationship permutations punctured with predictable jokes.
Greta Gerwig, evermore the go-to girl for kooky material, finds herself playing slightly against type here, and for the better. While Maggie retains the quick-fire attitude we recognise as inherent to Gerwig’s characterisation in the likes of Frances Ha and Mistress America, her personality is shaped by insecurity that casts a gentle surge of sadness.
Such beats are not enough to compensate for the saccharine superficiality that pushes towards a conclusion you anticipated long before the story was set in motion. Or counter the script’s conceited attitude, which wishes to trade in wisdom, but can only offer whimsy. Maggie’s Plan may consider itself to be a strong shot of espresso, but it has all the body of weak and watered-down decaf.