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.
You also don’t see many movies about colleagues in a very specific profession — here a particular wing of academia — in relationships.
Hawke: It’s surprising how rarely we see that in movies. So many of us are colleagues with the people we partner with, in some way, shape or form. This is one of the most surprising things to me about being an adult: I didn’t know that school was the only time I was going to spend really engaged with people who are interested in different things than me. My whole adult life I’ve spent with people who are interested in the arts. I see it with my kids in school. I really want them to enjoy these friendships, because you’ll never be friends with people like that for the rest of your life. Not to say you shouldn’t be, but we all break off into camps. What’s great about John and Georgette’s relationship is that’s how people partner off all the time.
Miller: It’s inside baseball. They’re talking in a way that only they know how to talk to each other.
It’s refreshing that in the last year there’s been a concerted effort to get more women directing films, to have more chances to get different viewpoints into the market place.
Hawke: In the last year and a half have been my first experiences being directed by women. I didn’t see to what extent film sets were boys clubs. It’s in the DNA of how movies are built. It’s more insidious than anybody knows. It takes someone like Rebecca to tell her stories and stories that interest her. That’s how you can break it down and people get used to it.
Miller: The key is not any kind of quota system, which is demoralizing to everyone. I think if people can see women and minorities as human beings they’ll start to forget about sex. But statistically it’s looking very grim.
Hawke: I think about it completely from a selfish point of view: that it’s in my best interest [to be directed by women]. I’ve been acting for a long time, and acting for Rebecca was different than acting for a man my age. I need to put myself in a position to be viewed differently. Then, by accident, things start to change. My world is opening up and I’m allowed to be different, to show different sides of me. We collaborate with people who are different from us. It’s in our best interest. It gets you out of your habitual behavior that you didn’t even know you had.