'Maggie's Plan' is a comedy light on laughs (R)

Maggie’s Plan resembles a Noah Baumbach movie without the sharp sense of humor, cohesion or the satisfying payoff — you know, some of the best things about a Noah Baumbach movie. Directed and co-written by Rebecca Miller (The Ballad of Jack and Rose, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee), the film dissects a quirky romantic triangle between a trio of New Yorkers. But it squanders its comic potential, settling for foreseeable paths instead of testing new possibilities.

The title refers to the dream of single, thirtysomething Maggie (the reliable Greta Gerwig, the film’s secret weapon) to have a baby. Maggie is practical (she thinks), and so, in search of sperm, she interviews an old college acquaintance, Guy (Travis Fimmel of Vikings), who plays hockey and is good at math. Guy has also hidden himself under the world’s worst hipster beard, so perhaps Maggie can’t get a good look at Fimmel, a former model whose eye-popping underwear ads allegedly caused people to drive off the roads in London. In any case she doesn’t care about sex or finding a boyfriend; she just wants to make a baby before time runs out.

But Maggie’s great life plan is altered when she meets John (Ethan Hawke), an older professor who teaches at The New School (she’s a student counselor there). John’s specialty is Ficto-Critical Perspective in Family Dynamics — one of the movie’s many funny setups that ends up going nowhere — and the first conversation they have confirms everything you need to know about him (he courts Maggie by asking her to read his unpublished novel). John has two kids and a formidably intellectual wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore, using an unnecessary and distracting accent), but they don’t prevent him from falling for Maggie.

The film then flashes forward as Maggie and John juggle marriage, a toddler, his kids, her job, his lingering attachment to Georgette. John, not surprisingly, is still working on that novel and not much else. Maggie’s patience is fraying and so she hits on a new plan worthy of a much less intelligent comedy: She’ll give John back to Georgette and resume life as a single mom.

That sitcom twist doesn’t quite work with the movie’s indie vibe, especially after its earlier, earnest attempts to reflect the fact that reality always rudely tramples romantic love. The requisite appearance of a couple of SNL alums (Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph) as Maggie’s friends feels like a cliche, and the film grows more conventional as it goes along. Worst of all, director/writer Miller and her cowriter Karen Rinaldi never fulfill the script’s potential for comedy: Guy’s status as a pickle entrepreneur, for example, or a scene in which John and Georgette get lost in the woods, are presented and then neglected. Gerwig and Hawke are outstanding reasons to see this movie, but your patience — just like Maggie’s — will be tested before it’s over.

Cast: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Travis Fimmel.

Director: Rebecca Miller.

Screenwriters: Rebecca Miller, Karen Rinaldi.

A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 98 minutes. Language and some sexuality. Playing in Miami-Dade: Aventura, Sunset, South Beach, O Cinema Miami Beach; in Broward: Paradise, Gateway, Tamarac; Palm Beach: Palace, Living Room, Shadowood.

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