In Rebecca Miller's witty romantic comedy, Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is a vibrant New Yorker who, without success in finding love, decides to have a child on her own. But when she meets John Harding (Ethan Hawke), an anthropology professor and struggling novelist, she falls in love for the first time. Complicating matters, John is in an unhappy marriage with Georgette (Julianne Moore), an ambitious academic who is driven by her work. With some help from Maggie's eccentric best friends, married couple Tony (Bill Hader) and Felicia (Maya Rudolph), Maggie sets in motion a new plan that intertwines their lives and connects them in surprising and humorous ways.
Ahh, the quirky romantic comedy/drama. There was a time I found myself enjoying almost every one I saw. I remember absolutely loving the ‘Before Series’ that introduced me to the eccentric side of Ethan Hawke. But in the past five or six years, I feel like the genre has moved on from quirky characters to odd and emotionally distant characters. I tend to have a hard time relating with such distant characters, and I'm ultimately left cold by the experience. For years I have been waiting for a quirky dramedy that I can really connect with like I did so long ago. So can Ethan Hawke bring me back to the genre I once loved?
Greta Gerwig play our lead as Maggie. She is an early thirty something, who lives in New York and has never found love. She doesn't feel bad for herself though, in fact she seems to have absolute control of her life, and sees that the one thing missing is a child. She makes her plans with a local mathematician/pickle vender, Guy (Travis Fimmel) to inseminate herself. Shortly after, while collecting her weekly paycheck, she runs into John (Ethan Hawke), an anthropologist who is writing his first book, and she immediately feels a connection to him and begins to question if her “plan” is necessary.
Greta Gerwig is immensely charming, and instantly likable in her role as a woman that is totally self-sufficient and doesn't rely on anybody. But she is also an endlessly kind and selfless individual, who believes in doing things to help the people in her life. All throughout this film, she has John’s responsibilities thrust upon her rather carelessly. You can tell she knows it's not right, but it doesn't fully get her down; it's almost like she feels more necessary and needed because of the responsibilities. This is all just subtext in the film and not overtly stated, but it does make the character of Maggie feel very fleshed out, and Gerwig brings a lot to her roll.
Ethan Hawke’s character, John, is a typical self-important author who is married to the Russian professor, and equally self-involved, Georgette (Julianne Moore). They have two children that they barely acknowledge, and are constantly disappointed with each other. But Maggie doesn't know this. All she knows is that he is married, has kids, and that while she has been reading his drafts for his book and loving them, she has also been falling for him. John eventually leaves Georgette for Maggie, and they have a child of their own, leaving Maggie no reason to go through with the insemination. But is this what Maggie has truly been wanting her whole life? Is John’s every relationship doomed from the beginning, or is this the one for him.
The character of John kind of bugged me in this film. He's a self-important ass. His book gets longer and longer and never gets finished, yet he puts all his responsibilities of his children on Maggie. Hawke plays the character well enough, but is given no depth in his character. He knows he is putting a lot of weight on Maggie, because like a true manipulator, he states it, then uses it against her to get her to do it out of pity. On top of all of that, Maggie realizes that John actually still loves Georgette. She isn't mad at John; she just wonders how she got into the predicament she is in. Since Maggie’s character is so well developed, I expected John and Georgette’s characters to have some more dimension, but unfortunately, I don’t get it from Hawke or Moore.
I was still left a little cold by this film because of the lack of development in the supporting characters, and I don't like the ending all that much. But Greta Gerwig’s character of Maggie was truly uplifting. No matter what obstacles got in her way, she forced a smile on her face and did what needed to get done without holding any grudges. Throughout the entire movie, she does what she feels is best for the people in her life. In the end, I feel like there is a good message here that got me past the quirky awkwardness that I usually get stuck on in indie dramas.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony brings ‘Maggie’s Plan’ to Blu-ray in the traditional slip cover, which opens up to a hard cover case. Once opened, there is the usual Blu-ray to the right, and to the left is the Ultraviolet insert code. At the start of the disc there are skippable trailers that lead to a bland still frame main menu that lets you navigate to playing the movie.
‘Maggie’s Plan’ does a quirky hop, skip, and jump onto Blu-ray with a 1080P MPEG-4 encode that fits this movie quite well. Framed at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the cinematography and visual style is simply here to service the story. Basically, what that means is, we get exactly what we expect and nothing much more.
Sharpness and clarity are pretty damn good here, and mildly better than I was expecting. Edges are crisp and well defined, and there is some good detail work once you get into Maggie and John’s quirky house when they shack up with each other. None of this is blowing me away, but there are some transfers today that don't do that.
There are some issues that come into play, mainly in the second half of the film. Skin tones tend to run marginally hot to extremely hot in some scenes. The darker the scene gets, the hotter the skin tone gets. There is a cabin scene with John and Georgette and when the lighting gets very dark, black levels dip below where they should be, and their skin resembles two people who just ate a ghost pepper or something, because their skin tones get hooot. But overall, this is a sharper transfer then I expected, that gives you exactly what you would expect from an indie drama.
‘Maggie's Plan’ talks its way onto Blu-ray with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that is extremely front heavy and talky. I will say right up front that I am going to be harder on this than some other people would be on Highdefdigest. Just because this is a drama, and not an action, or suspense film, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have high expectations; instead my subwoofer was so non responsive that I wanted to turn it over and give it mouth to mouth to resuscitate it.
I don't know what to say, other than everything you hear comes from your front speakers. It's like this track is 2.0 and not 5.1. Vocal and over all audio levels are fine, and I could hear everything clearly, but that is it. Surrounds are equally as nonexistent. Sitting here right now I can't think of one instance when my surrounds weren't lifeless.
Anyone that says you shouldn't expect an active track from a drama, or a more talky film, is just unimaginative in my opinion. Hell, this film takes place in New York, there are people all around, constantly making spectacles of themselves on the streets, yet everything is focused in the fronts and it makes this audio track feel very inauthentic. That scene in the cabin…. yeah, there is a band playing in that scene and it feels so lifeless without the bass of the instruments, or the atmosphere of their surroundings. This is a sterile, lifeless audio track that someone did not put that much time into.
Commentary with Rebecca Miller- Unfortunately this commentary by Rebecca Miller focuses so heavily on the quirky qualities of this movie that I tend to like just the background. I wanted more info about Maggie and what makes her tick, or even John and Georgette for that matter. They do go into the more interesting and subtle camera choices in the film, but not enough for me to get invested. This may be a commentary track for some people, just not for me.
Sundance Film Festival Q&A (11:29 HD) – Wondering what an introduction to a film is like? That is exactly what this is. This film was screened at Sundance in 2015 and this is the short audience Q&A intro to the screening.
Controlling Fate: The Making of ‘Maggie's Plan’ (15:52 HD) – Have you ever seen a making of that gave you more insight into the characters than the full commentary? Well that is exactly what this is. The quirkiness gets set aside here to give you a deeper insight into the characters that you might not get from the film itself.
Hilarious Outtakes (7:21 HD) – Pet peeve of mine, outtakes that are entirely just actors riffing and not actual outtakes at all. That is exactly what this is.
It's been a while since I've watched a quirky indie drama that I came away having any affection for. Even though I can't fully relate to our lead character, Maggie, I can appreciate her outlook on life. She's a completely self-sufficient woman, who doesn't really feel the need for a man in her life, and to me that is an admirable quality. Unfortunately, Hawke and Moore are given one dimensional characters to work with here and that gets frustrating after a while, especially with the amount of time Hawke’s character of John gets. He is in this movie for far too long for us to know so little about him, other than he is self-important to the point of being inept. I did enjoy this movie despite the shallow characterizations because of the performance by Greta Gerwig; she charmed me enough to break my quirky indie bias, and gave me a strong message we can all learn from.