A different kind of New York Story

Director Rebecca Miller (The Ballad of Jack and Rose, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee) on her new film Maggie’s Plan, starring Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore.

Maggies Plan
Ethan Hawke and Greta Gerwig in Maggie’s Plan

The opening seconds of Maggie’s Plan feel familiar: New York City in the fall, a low-key jazz soundtrack, Greta Gerwig wearing thick wool clothing. But Maggie’s Plan is not the work of Noah Baumbach or Woody Allen, it’s the latest film by director Rebecca Miller (The Ballad of Jack and Rose, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee).

Maggie’s Plan sees Miller working in a more broadly comedic fashion that touches on the work of those quintessentially New York filmmakers, though the film retains her sense of storytelling and depth of character with a slow-burning approach to the jokes.

“It’s almost like they sneak up on you in a sly way,” says Miller. “Even my saddest or more poignant films have had moments of humour in them. I just wanted to switch the balance, you know?”

Maggie (Gerwig) works in academic bureaucracy. She’s a pragmatic New Yorker who has a very set plan to have a child that she’ll raise on her own. Just as she’s about to have the baby with an old college friend, she falls in love with John (Ethan Hawke), a professor and writer who already has two children and a turbulent marriage to fellow academic Georgette (Julianne Moore). Maggie’s carefully laid-out plan goes askew when she begins a life with John that may be more stable on paper but throws a wrench in all of her careful planning.

Maggie’s Plan originated from a work-in-progress by writer (and Miller’s close friend) Karen Rinaldi. It’s a quintessentially New York story that does feel like it’s being told by New Yorkers — a New York that may be disappearing, but pointedly does not look straight out of an Anthropologie catalogue. I point out that Maggie’s book strewn apartment is among the smallest New York apartments I’ve ever seen on film.

Maggie's Plan 2
Gerwig and Julianne Moore in Maggie’s Plan

“It’s funny because I did in fact sublet from a poet, just like she does,” explains Miller. “It was years ago, when I first moved to New York, but that apartment was completely covered in books. I couldn’t put anything down in that apartment. That’s the thing about New York – space has a completely different meaning here than most cities.”

After a series of roles where not having her shit together was kind of the point, Gerwig here embodies a more buttoned-down version of the character she usually plays.

“When it came to figuring out the physicality of the character, for example, or her little ways and the way that she is…” says Miller, “she has a very specific way of moving and being the world as Maggie. All of that was something that we talked about. The fact is that the dialogue, the way things are written, that doesn’t change that much. (…) The one thing that we figured out together is that she’s a Quaker. I can’t remember who said it but I figured there was some religious background because she’s so ethically motivated. I remember she said that she should be so straight on, square to the camera — she herself is so upfront. There’s something so honest and pure about her.”

Casting the ever-present Ethan Hawke in the film was also a no-brainer for Miller. “Ethan has so much going for him: he’s funny, he has so much charm, but he’s also really a writer,” says Miller. “I needed someone in this movie who could be believable as a writer. Someone who that thing of ‘I’ve written myself so far up my own ass that I can’t think of new ideas,’ he has to be believable when he says that. Not everybody can be convincing as a writer because it’s a very particular way of being. It needs a particular kind of self-obsession or obsession with one’s own work and I think he did it effortlessly.” ■

Maggie’s Plan opens at Cinéma du Parc (3575) on Friday, June 10. Watch the trailer here: