How do you solve a problem like Greta Gerwig? In almost every film she’s in, she begins by derailing your artistic sensibilities by drawing attention to the artifice of the activity you’re engaged in: you’re watching a movie, and she is an actress, standing in front of a camera, speaking lines that someone has written for the movie you’re watching. The dialogue sounds like dialogue, not like real life.
Then you realize that, while the actors around her may not seem as constructed as Miss Gerwig, they’re not as funny, either. She may seem like a vehicle of the writer, but she also seems like the perfect vehicle of the writer. She is hitting every beat, getting every intended joke, inflection, intended line reading. She is the writer’s advocate.
Finally, by the end, you’ve fallen in love with her all over again. This is Gerwig’s crazy, strange, unique skill: she challenges you to like her at the beginning of each film she’s in, and by the end you would do anything for her. She seduces you in every role, over and over, and she always wins.
It’s lucky writer / director Rebecca Miller got Gerwig to centrally ground her film Maggie’s Plan, then, because without her it would lie charmless and flat. As a script – and, especially, as a piece of direction – it’s a copy of a copy of a copy of Woody Allen – a fourth generation Xerox. Extremely erudite, educated, very white New Yorkers navigate love while talking about each others’ writing. Ethan Hawke is the man; Julianne Moore is the other woman. “Maggie’s Plan” is the hinge the plot swings on, and, while slender, it has enough bolts to warrant not revealing it. (The trailer is not so respectful – avoid it if you don’t want most elements of Maggie’s plan revealed).
This is a movie of quiet smiles and the occasional laugh; it’s barely a comedy, and yet it’s only a comedy; the stakes, while genuine for the characters, are superficial for the audience, and hardly worthy of the lofty title of drama. Gerwig saves the day, the movie, and justifies your visit to the cinema. She works in a rarefied world of highly literate, literary, urban, independent cinema. Hollywood probably doesn’t want her and she probably doesn’t want Hollywood. Thank goodness. It means she makes movies like Maggie’s Plan, which is otherwise unremarkable, watchable. I guess there is no problem like Great Gerwig, or if there is, she solves it herself, one erudite, literate movie at a time.