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Movie Reviews

New Yorkers in transit

Greta Gerwig as Maggie and Ethan Hawke as John. Photo by John Pack, Hall Monitor, Inc. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

MAGGIE’S PLAN

With her frequent presence in savvy, hip, low-budget features, Greta Gerwig is the current Queen of the Indies, starring in a run of independent movies spotlighting her idiosyncratic but oddly wholesome mix of naïveté, heedlessness, and offhand sexuality. She co-wrote both Mistress America and Frances Ha with director Noah Baumbach, and she held her own opposite Al Pacino in The Humbling. Now, Gerwig plays the title character in the romantic comedy Maggie’s Plan, directed with élan by Rebecca Miller, who adapted her script from a story by Karen Rinaldi.

In Maggie’s Plan, Gerwig is a young single New Yorker in her 30s who works in the administrative side of education and is determined to have a child — one way or another. Despite thinking she hasn’t met the right guy, she succumbs to baby fever and begins to weigh her options.

Maggie is willing to become a single mother, and at first decides that a guy she knew when she was in college has the right stuff to give her the right stuff. Then she connects with John (Ethan Hawke), an anthropology professor and marginal novelist who aspires to literary greatness but is battling writers’ block. John is unhappily married to celebrated, over-achieving academic Georgette (Julianne Moore) whose success diminishes his own work. Still, Maggie tumbles for John, and resolves that he’d be the ideal father for her potential offspring.

The resulting complications from Maggie’s willful pursuit push the movie into amusing and thoughtful directions, touching on issues of romantic fealty, floating morality, and personal choice. Though the romantic triangle of Maggie, John, and Georgette is center-stage, Saturday Night Live alumni Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph bring some fun to the angst as kooky married couple Tony and Felicia, Maggie’s best friends.

For better or worse, all involved are impacted by Maggie’s manipulations, including the wannabe mama herself. It’s a tribute to Gerwig that Maggie’s self-serving actions don’t stop her from being somewhat likeable as she enacts her plan and navigates the fallout. Chalk that up to Miller as well. The director-screenwriter manages to give every significant cast member multiple dimensions and moments to shine, with Moore accomplishing the most difficult task of making the driven, difficult Georgette sympathetic.

Maggie’s Plan succeeds adroitly as a portrait of an unconventional woman who tries to take control of her future and ends up embroiling others in her design, and as a comedic look at 21st century romance and family.

Maggie’s Plan is currently playing the Clay Theater (2261 Fillmore Street, 415-561-9921).

WEINER

Whether his life and career serve as a cautionary tale or a punch line, politician Anthony Weiner is a fascinating subject for an in-depth documentary that has all the elements of classical drama. It’s surprising and fortunate that directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg were given the sort of access to Weiner’s 2013 political campaign for the office of New York City mayor that allowed them to make Weiner, the painfully intimate account of one man’s rise, fall, rise, and fall — and the aftermath of that tumultuous journey.

Weiner was a charismatic, crusading congressman. His mix of eloquence, humor, and a take-no-prisoners attitude marked him as a star on the rise — until a sexting scandal derailed his career. Resigning from his congressional seat, he issued the requisite on-camera apology, retrenched, and, with the support of his wife, Huma (an ally of Hillary Clinton), reentered the political arena by announcing his New York mayoral candidacy.

His passion and tireless dedication won over many of his fellow New Yorkers. It looked like Weiner had made a triumphant comeback. Then, new allegations of sexting surfaced, and the bottom dropped out of Weiner’s campaign. The tabloids, the cable TV pundits, and late-night talk show hosts went wild, with the candidate’s unfortunate surname lending itself to a barrage of cheap jokes.

Public record aside, the documentary delivers such a firsthand view of the proceedings that it ends up being a landmark examination of the mechanics and impact of a political scandal. Because Weiner fearlessly allowed the filmmakers to record private moments, the movie brings us into close quarters with him, his staff, and his family as he leaps into damage-control mode, leaning on self-deprecating wit as his world falls apart for the second time — and continuing his quest despite the odds against him.

The pitiless, piranha-like hunger of the 24-hour news cycle is on display here, as a decent man’s foibles — damning to someone held to a higher standard than the voters themselves — end up eviscerating him and his candidacy. It’s nothing less than an American tragedy with the occasional rueful laugh, playing out on the stage of the world’s most media-saturated city, New York, and preserved for posterity in Weiner.

Weiner is currently playing the Embarcadero Center Cinema (1 Embarcadero Center, 415-352-0835)

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