Shannon Plumb has shot over 200 short films, which have been exhibited in museums, galleries, and on international screens. She started by shooting herself as various characters, acting out three-minute situations using humor and silence as her vehicles for storytelling. In 2013, her first feature film, Towheads, premiered at MoMA as part of New Directors / New Films. You can see her short films at shannonplumb.com and Towheads is available on Netflix and iTunes. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, director Derek Cianfrance, and their two sons.
Watching Maggie’s Plan was like having sex with a condom on. It felt safe, it was satisfying, you could enjoy yourself without any anxiety.
I hadn’t been to a matinee in a while. Maggie’s Plan was playing on the Upper West Side.
At 11 a.m., I followed two white-haired women into the theater. The older of the two held the door for her friend, who held the door for me.
The seats were filled with the bottoms of senior citizens. It was a much older crowd than I was used to. The room had a serenity that seemed unusual. There were no dings, vibrations or chimes from incoming phone calls and/or the eternal text. There were no glowing lights emanating from the crotch area. These heads were not down, they were up and awaiting a new experience. The pre-show atmosphere was lively with conversation. There was a slow rustling about. A group of friends all with white hair (or hair trying not to be white) talked about making sandwiches for dinner. An older gentleman in front read a newspaper! The atmosphere reminded me of the world when I was 12, or 20. An old man nearby held a bagel with lox and cream cheese in front of his face.
The air was light. Life was easy as cotton candy on the tongue. We were birthday balloons floating over our seats. We waited for the movie to begin. There was no fear of zombies with guns. The theater was a sacred place again. We waited to take a ride together. This would be a ride like the Mr. Toad adventure at Disneyland. No big curves. No drops from 150 feet in the air. This would be a ride to feel the wind in our hair and smell honey from the weeds.
This was a safe ride.
Ethan Hawke plays John. He’s a high-brow intellectual ficto-critical anthropology professor. He says to his colleagues at lunch that putting “like” in a sentence is putting a condom on what you’re really trying to say. That seemed to be the crux of the whole movie. What John and Greta Gerwig’s Maggie truly felt about each other was interrupted by a thin layer of superficiality.
Maggie and John can’t see the truth. I was getting a funny feeling like there was something between me and the screen. It was like a haze, or a pair of glasses, or a wool blanket. I realized it was just effective story telling. I couldn’t see what was right in front of me, same as those characters. I was convinced this was destiny. “Maggie and John are meant for each other,” a great aunt might say if she were sitting next to me. But “love is messy,” says Tony (Maggie’s friend played by Bill Hader). Messy and sometimes just wrong. When they finally escape the mayhem of three kids and careers, they go on a gambling and drinking date. Maggie finds time to reflect. Nothing stands between Maggie and John, the audience and the screen. The condom is off. Maggie devises her plan.
I quickly glanced at old Bagel with Lox nearby, the man with his cream cheese sandwich. His mouth was slowly approaching the bagel, similar to a spaceship docking at the space station.
Greta Gerwig and Julianne Moore portray the kind of women I don’t see in Hollywood movies anymore. They weren’t talking trash. They weren’t acting like men. They played Ladies. If they got naked, it didn’t put a lump in your throat and make you suddenly feel all Porn. That’s not the way it was shot. That’s not the way it was set up. Gerwig’s Maggie wears tights and long nightgowns with a million tiny pearl buttons. Julianne Moore, playing Georgette, is clad in furs and charging forward in tall boots.
Their characters were lovable. They sat with grace, they stumbled with grace, they made love with grace. And they were fun to watch. Julianne Moore transformed into a thick-accented, slightly arrogant, furry, foxy lady. Greta played her comedy perfectly with eyebrows and smirks, liberated clumsiness and heavy feet. Funny women can be sexy. These are the women I see in the real world. They are finally being embraced by films like Maggie’s Plan. It’s not a male fantasy. Why? Because it’s directed by a woman.
I read the New York Times review of Maggie’s Plan. A.O. Scott mentions the movie being the “male fantasy turned inside out.” In a subliminal way, I was thinking about this too. I ignored the subliminal signal because I didn’t want to get all feminist here. But why was the male fantasy coming up? Maybe it’s because we’ve seen that fantasy played out so, so many times in Hollywood movies. The man gets everything, a wife and an affair. Oh, and he usually gets a happy ending too. Like A.O., I appreciate the flop of fantasy here. When Maggie takes control and devises an unexpected plan, the movie becomes one we haven’t seen before.
Bagel with Lox got up and left. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the movie. I think he was just finished with his sandwich.
Watching this movie was like watching raindrops fall on a car window. When one falls, you look to see which raindrop it will bump into. The characters in this movie seem to make the wrong choices. John has an affair with Maggie. Are our choices a part of our destiny? Even the bad ones? How much control should we assume over our own lives and how much control do we need to let go? These were questions brought up by Maggie’s Plan. “Was it you, or the hand of destiny?” asks Tony.
Maybe a few years of distraction from the truth is a part of Destiny’s plan. We all get sidetracked sometimes; the wrong marriage, the wrong job, prison.
Learning what you don’t like is as important as what you do like.
I wonder if the older folks in the audience had an idea of their Destinies. Were some fulfilled?
I think Bagel with Lox had control over his Destiny. His Destiny was that bagel with cream cheese. And he killed it. Slowly.