“Maggie's Plan”


            Sometimes I'm glad I'm old.  And old-school.  To be a so-called “modern” today is to enter a very complicated, ever-shifting emotional landscape.

            Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is a thirty-something single New Yorker with a decent job (helping art students find “real” employment utilizing their artistic talents).  She's reasonably happy, as she matter-of-factly describes to her friend Felicia (Maya Rudolph) and her husband Tony (Bill Hader), who's also her friend and confidante.  But she wants to have a baby.  The problem is, there's no husband.  Not even a good prospect on the horizon.  No problem.  Maggie herself was raised by a single Mom;  a university professor who was quickly divorced from her birth Dad, whom she rarely saw until her Mom died when she was 16, then she went to live with her professor Dad in Philly, and they both did the best they could with it, but it's clear that they aren't close now. 

            As if the lack of a significant living parental figur

e means the lack of a social conscience, Maggie decides that she's willing for a college friend, Guy (Travis Fimmel) to be the sperm donor, but only in a remote, clinical way.  No actual sexual contact.  When he comes over to “deliver the goods,” he offers to hook up the old-fashioned way, but she says No.  Doesn't feel like it.  Would just complicate things.  She doesn't expect him to have any post-procedural claim on the child, anyway, and this lack of emotional intimacy appears to her to be perfectly consistent.

            Except that almost simultaneously, she meets a married man, John (Ethan Hawke), who seems to be perfectly charming.  Naturally, his overbearing and preoccupied wife doesn't understand him.  He loves his two kids, but his wife Georgette (Julianne Moore) is so concentrated on her tenure-track career as a professor at Columbia that she hardly pays attention to them, either.  John, an adjunct professor himself, enjoys being a guest lecturer, but what he really wants to be is a novelist.  And would Maggie be so kind as to read his first novel?  Well, of course.  And while she's at it, she can rescue him from his loveless marriage, and his kids can be the playmates for hers.

            Fast-forward about three years.  John's still working on his novel, which seems to be so complicated as to be turning back in on itself.  He's become the distracted and preoccupied parent, while Maggie seems to be the one missing work to take care of any of the kids.  Suddenly her “rescue” operation seems a lot less romantic, and even more annoying, John seems to spend an inordinate amount of time talking to his ex, who seems emotionally needy when it comes to his advice about her professional life.  So Maggie hatches a grand plan to get John and Georgette back together.  Why not?  They'd both be happier, and Maggie could then just be with her daughter, who seems to love math and ice skating and pickles, just like her old friend Guy, whom she thought wasn't really part of the picture, but suddenly he re-appears.

            What a tangled web we weave.  As Maggie's friends point out, as she tries to figure out hers and everyone else's emotional states, is that relationshps are long, messy, and complicated, with many ups and downs.  Particularly when children are involved, it's not so easy to just jump from one attachment to the other, much less back again.  No kidding.  This is the world's wisdom about relationships today?

            Sometimes it's comforting to remain an old Neanderthal.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  What are the reasons for and against marriage?

2)                  What are the reasons for and against having children?  In marriage or outside of it?

3)                  Are single-parent households just as good for child-rearing as two-parent households?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association