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Julianne Moore Shows Off Her Delightful Comedy Chops in "Maggie's Plan"

Julianne Moore Shows Off Her Delightful Comedy Chops in "Maggie's Plan"

By: Richard Lawson

Last year at the Toronto International Film Festival, Julianne Moore wowed audiences as a woman succumbing to Alzheimer's in "Still Alice."

This year, Moore delivers another strong performance as a dying woman in "Freeheld." We’ve long known that Moore is a master of serious drama, and those two films are strong showcases for her focused, committed talent. But Moore, when she wants to be, can also be really funny, as evidenced by her work in another Toronto film this year, writer-director Rebecca Miller's "Maggie's Plan," a strange, screwball romantic comedy that's a smart, goofy delight. Though Greta Gerwig (also great) is technically the lead here, Moore's turn as a tightly wound Danish professor at Columbia kinda steals the show, thanks to Moore's dead-on skewering of academic pretensions, and to her Danish accent.

Moore comes into the movie later than Gerwig and co-star Ethan Hawke, playing the wife that Hawke eventually leaves to start a new life with Gerwig's character. All three work in higher education — in the arts and humanities, no less — and so all operate on a kind of overly theoretical, stuck-in-their-own-heads frequency that plays like Noah Baumbach with a softer edge. This is great, relatively uncharted territory for Moore, who's certainly done comedy before, but little that's this particular, this precise. From the looks of it, she's having a blast, lending her character, Georgette, an alluring weirdness that could be blamed on her Danishness, or possibly on some slight inner madness. Whatever the source of her half-charming, half-off-putting idiosyncrasies, Moore creates a fascinating, carefully observed nut, earning many of the biggest laughs in the film.

Which isn't to diminish the fine work that Gerwig and Hawke do. All three bounce and bicker together in near-perfect harmony, creating a lively, inviting hum that effectively drowns out the occasional clunky moments in Miller's script. They all have a pleasant naturalness that Miller doesn't get in the way of — it's a surprisingly rambling, airy movie for Miller, who has made mostly intimate dramas before this. Though she's certainly heavily borrowing from Baumbach's oeuvre (in the same way Baumbach has recently been borrowing from Woody Allen's), she makes the pretentious, dilettante-ish New Yorker comedy genre her own, infusing the story, about infidelity and love gone to rot, with a nice amount of warmth and optimism.

"Maggie's Plan" is one of those festival films that wasn't really on my radar, so maybe some of my affection for it is born out of pure surprise. But most of the film's strengths are there no matter how prepared you are for its offbeat wit, with Moore easily among its chief pleasures. In some ways, she comes as a surprise, too, from the second she opens her mouth and her startling Danish lilt comes pouring out, to the small, hilarious calibrations she does as Georgette slowly warms to the other woman. It must have been a nice break for Moore to do something that isn't weepy or harrowing, and it's certainly a joy for us in the audience. May we see more of Moore's comedy stylings in the future.

Maybe at Toronto next year, or, hopefully, sooner.

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Photo Credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images