Rebecca Miller and Ethan Hawke chat like best friends. They’re both talkative people, prone to big, hearty laughs. That bond is clear while watching “Maggie’s Plan,” which Miller wrote and directed, with Hawke as an academic who leaves his wife/colleague, Georgette (Julianne Moore), for Greta Gerwig’s Maggie, a younger woman who eventually realizes she might have made a mistake. It’s a big move for Miller, who’s not just the daughter of Arthur Miller and wife of Daniel Day-Lewis, but a filmmaker and author who’s work has largely been in dramas (like “Personal Velocity” and “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee”). But underneath the light farce is a film that’s just as serious.
This is a comedy that’s very casual about presenting how today is loved: how we can fall in and out of love, how couples can split and still keep in contact, how their kids won’t be destroyed by divorce. Yet it’s still a comedy.
Ethan Hawke: A lot of the comedies I grew up loving are comedies with great performances that are rooted in recognizable human behavior. One of the things that’s happened is comedy has largely been reoriented towards a 14-year-old male psyche. I laugh at them, too. But if you look at these great Katharine Hepburn or Preston Sturges comedies, they’re really smart. And some of them are women’s movies. Men would go, but the comedies were directed towards a female audience of intelligent people who are thinking about their lives.
To read a scene where a New Yorker is driving with their stepkids and is worried about where they’re going to park — that’s a movie I want to see. The people in this movie are all likeable and screwed up, like everyone I know. We’re all trying to get through life, and it’s hard because you screw up all the time, and you screw up with good intentions.
John screws up a lot. And there’s a stretch in the middle when he seems aloof and even inconsiderate.
Hawke: You’re seeing him through [Maggie’s] eyes.
Rebecca Miller: You see him as a wonderful, romantic character, then you start seeing him act like a jerk. Then you start seeing him as this little puppy. [Laughs]
Hawke: We’ve all seen that with really good friends: “Well, if I focus on this side of your personality, you are really annoying.” But then something switches and you say, “Oh, that’s why I became friends with you.” There’s this grace you have to have. One thing that’s hard about loving people is having to love all of them.
Miller: I think grace is key to a marriage. You have to give grace. Someone described the end of their marriage to me, saying, “We just stopped extending grace to each other. And that was the end of our marriage.” You need forgiveness. That’s the attitude of the film: It’s a forgiving attitude.