In Rebecca Miller’s wily screwball romance “Maggie’s Plan,” Julianne Moore — deploying a frighteningly droll Danish accent — is a Columbia anthropologist with her name, Georgette Harding, on the department door.
By comparison, her husband, John, played with a scruffy charm by Ethan Hawke, is but a lowly adjunct at NYU. His specialty is fictocritical anthropology, he is the author of the hefty “Rituals of Commodity Fetishism,” and he is about to embark on an affair with a single woman with two master’s degrees and a closet of decidedly unfashionable togs. Penny loafers. Cardigans. Blouses buttoned to the neck.
She is the Maggie of the title, and she is played by Greta Gerwig in the Gerwigian manner people have come to love (or be incredibly annoyed by).
Maggie and John’s relationship begins innocently, with walk-and-talks through Washington Square, but soon he is sharing pages of the novel he is writing and sharing his frustrations about living with Georgette. John and Georgette have two children, who attend a fancy Danish-American school. Dinners are awkward.
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One night, John comes running to Maggie’s little apartment, slumps to his knees and announces, breathlessly, “I’m in love with you.”
It was not Maggie’s plan to fall in love. She had a different agenda, having recruited an artisanal picklemaker in Brooklyn to donate his sperm so she can have a child. The motherhood thing and the John Harding thing dovetail, though, and soon John has left Georgette, and Maggie is learning how to be a mom — and a stepmom, too.
The plan of the title comes midway through Miller’s disarmingly shambling comedy. John and Maggie have settled into a life together, but he seems to be taking her for granted. Maggie complains to her friend (Maya Rudolph), who listens and then responds: “Too bad you can’t give him back to his ex-wife.”
Soon Maggie is meeting with the frosty Dane. Wary and watchful, Georgette takes her time warming to the idea, but she does — and the plot thickens.
Although it’s set in the highbrow spheres of academe, “Maggie’s Plan” is really very down-to-earth. Moore goes at the critical Scandinavian-intellectual thing with hilarious results — she’s tightly wound and just this side of camp. Hawke is comfortably convincing as the bright but busily self-absorbed writer/philosopher. At the center of things, Gerwig stands her ground, making observations that are smart and soul-baring and true.
“Maggie’s Plan,” which Miller adapted from a short story by Karen Rinaldi, has some of the spirit, fabric and milieu of Woody Allen’s earlier, more resonant comedies (“Hannah and Her Sisters” comes to mind). But Miller (daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and photographer Inge Morath) understands women in a way Allen probably never will, and she also understands how to move characters along without relying on shtick.
Rated: R for profanity, sex, adult themes. Starring: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore. Director: Rebecca Miller. Running time: 98 minutes. Theater: Flicks.