Written by Rebecca Miller, Karen Rinaldi (114 pages)
Maggie’s Plan is a story about a character, Maggie, who has to be in control of everything in her life. She cannot stand the idea of leaving something up to chance. Her need for control is only hinted at in the beginning and made very clear by the end. Maggie, when the story begins, has a plan to artificially inseminate herself, not wanting to wait for the right guy to come along. Then she meets John, a writer and academic who leaves his wife, Georgette, to be with Maggie and they have a daughter together. A few years later, Maggie realizes their marriage isn’t going well and concocts a plan to reunite John and Georgette. What’s most interesting about this story (and which I will touch on later), is that the premise contains the midpoint of the story. Most often a story’s premise, and it’s movie trailer, will contain the lock in moment to end act as well as some of the struggles that take place in the third sequence of the movie, right at the beginning of act 2. It’s rare that movies try to hook you in with the midpoint twist or acceleration of the plot, but Maggie’s Plan does. In this way, it seems like Maggie’s “Plan” is to reunite John and Georgette, but this ignores the fact that this is only one of many ‘plans’ she makes. Other plans include getting pregnant on her own, making a marriage with John work in which everyone, as he will later say, has clearly defined roles, and then ultimately the implied plan Maggie makes at the end of the story.
Act 1: (pages 1-32)
Sequence 1 (pages 1-16): We establish Maggie and her day to day life. She’s a counselor of sorts at a New York university, she has a plan to get pregnant with the DNA of an old classmate, Guy Chalmers, her best friends are a married couple named Tony and Felicia (Maggie used to date Tony in college). One day Maggie meets John due to a paycheck error (they have similar last names). Maggie later comes across John again when he says hi to Felicia, and Felicia gives us some more exposition: John is incredibly smart, and he’s married to a “monster.” This makes Maggie more interested in him. Later Maggie and John run across each other in Washington Square park, and they talk about the book he’s writing. In their conversation we get the theme of the story which is boiled down to Maggie’s life philosophy:
The inciting incident is when John asks Maggie to read his novel. She says yes, and this gives them a reason to continue seeing each other.
Sequence 2 (pages 17-32): You can often recognize a new sequence in a screenplay because of the change of perspective. In this case, we finally meet John’s wife, Georgette aka the “monster.” We have heard about her through Felicia and John’s lens, but we haven’t seen her on our own until now. We follow John and Georgette and their two kids, Paul and Justine, to see what their life is like. The question for the audience is “is John’s and Georgette’s marriage as bad as we think it is?” I think this question, given to us by the context of Felicia and John saying it’s not going well, clouds our judgment. We’re looking for signs that the marriage isn’t going well. The family bickers a little at dinner, and Georgette seems a little too interested in her phone. This comes after the couple argues in an academic way onstage at a public debate type of event. We see every little conflict as a sign that the marriage is doomed. If we hadn’t known anything about John’s and Georgette’s marriage, however, then I think we wouldn’t recognize these signs as anything other than ordinary marital conversations and arguments. Arguing isn’t always a bad thing. Maggie and John continue to discuss his book and what she thinks about it. Because it’s cold outside, they make their way to her apartment, and there is a tender moment between the two which is calm, counter to all the ways John and Georgette’s interactions border on explosive. Maggie tells John about her parents, and her story is heartbreaking enough to make both John and the audience sympathetic to her. In this story, she mentions how her mother told Maggie that she “needed to be born.” To this, John replies…
This makes a few of the scene directions much more clear as Rebecca Miller will write things like…
That moment is before John says the line about unborn children controlling “clueless mortals.” There are several moments in the script about the camera moving to show something that the characters don’t even notice. It creates this power struggle between Maggie’s efforts to control everything and the powers of the universe. This technique of scene direction hints at the probably futility of Maggie’s Plan, even if she can’t see it herself.
Next we see Maggie with her friend Tony. She tells him how Georgette is a monster, and John suffers while he has to put up with her. She now thinks the way John and Felicia think about Georgette, without really knowing her. Tony points out that this is only one person’s perspective, John’s. Guy Chalmers visits Maggie’s apartment to make a sperm deposit. They share a brief moment in which Maggie asks Guy why he never became a mathematician despite his love of numbers. Guy’s response is a little meandering but it’s endearing because it’s thought through. This makes Maggie reconsider him just a little. That night (or not long after) Maggie tries to administer the sperm only to be interrupted by John who is locked out of his apartment and proclaims his love for her. Here we get another moment of the camera revealing information before Maggie sees it:
Maggie confesses that she has already tried the insemination, but she doesn’t think it worked. She and John make love, and we’re locked in. This moment, Maggie giving into John, works because we’ve established that Maggie buys the story John is telling her, whether it’s true or not. Similarly, John likes Maggie because she makes his life easier (as she will point out later in act 2) by helping him with his novel whereas Georgette does not seem to be helpful at all.
Act 2A: (pages 33-57)
Sequence 3 (pages 33-48.5): Act 2 begins with a leap forward two and a half years into the future. Maggie and John are married with a daughter, Lily, and everything seems to be going very well. We establish the new status quo: John is busy working on the same novel at home while Maggie struggles to balance her job and raising her daughter, almost completely by herself it seems. Maggie’s phone call with a student is interrupted when John disregards their daughter, forcing Maggie to step in. Right away we see the tearing at the seams of their relationship, suggesting further breaking apart later on. John basically begs Maggie to reschedule an appointment and pick up the kids from school (Paul and Justine since Georgette is out of town). When Maggie returns home, she asks how John’s meeting went, but he says he cancelled it because Georgette had “one of her crises,” for which he is happy to step in and help. It’s clear that John and his ex-wife still talk and talk often. This bothers Maggie who lets him know that she wants his attention the way Georgette demands his attention. John’s response is to tell Maggie how tough she is and capable of taking care of herself. In other words, she doesn’t need him, but Georgette does. Now we see that Maggie’s new life isn’t as wondrous as it seemed at the beginning of the sequence. This argument between her and John lay the seeds for “Maggie’s Plan.” She recognizes that John and Georgette are probably a match in the way she and him are not.
Sequence 4 (pages 49-57): This sequence begins when Maggie runs into Guy, the sperm donor. He sees Lily and asks if she’s his, but Maggie shoots that idea down. This sets up in the audience’s mind the possibility that Guy really is the father, even if Maggie denies it. Later, Maggie tells John that she sees herself as one of the less-likable characters in his novel. She tells him that he only likes her because she makes his life easier. Maggie will soon after tell Tony that she thinks she’s falling out of love with John. Maggie and Felicia then attend Georgette’s book reading, a nonfiction book in which she describes her husband leaving her for a younger woman. This is the first time Maggie and Georgette have met, and Maggie finally sees that Georgette is no monster, in fact she’s quite likable even if she’s a little intimidating. Maggie remarks to Felicia how Georgette and John are good together. Felicia jokingly says, “too bad you can’t give him back to his ex-wife.” This is the seed of the idea for Maggie’s biggest plan, and this is the midpoint of the story.
Act 2B: (58-89)
Sequence 5 (pages 58-71.5): Maggie takes plan seriously and approaches Georgette about it. Predictably, Georgette doesn’t take this idea well, belittling Maggie for tampering in other people’s lives and trying to undo the mess she has made.
Other than Tony’s playful protestations to Maggie’s decision-making process, this is the first time another character has really ripped into Maggie and made undeniable points about her character. Though she is well-meaning, Maggie has gotten herself in trouble. It is a little crazy to think she can have a relationship with a married man, take him away and then give him back when she’s had enough. Maggie tells Tony about her talk with Georgette, and like Georgette, Tony rips into Maggie about how foolish she is. She cries and explains how she rather has daughter grow up with divorced parents than within a dead marriage. Tony comforts her. Maggie and John have one last hurrah as a happy couple. They go to Chinatown into a secret poker game in the back of a restaurant. They get drunk and stay at a motel in the same building and make love. The next morning, cold reality sets in, and Maggie asks John if he would ever have another child, setting off an argument in which she points out that he doesn’t help her raise the children. John points out that they all have ‘roles’ in the marriage, and his role is to write the novel, essentially for the well-being of the family. John tells Maggie, ‘you can’t get mad when we all play our roles to perfection.’ The implication is that Maggie had made another plan offscreen, sometime between sleeping with John and the two and a half year gap before we see her again. Their marriage didn’t just happen as it may have seemed, instead it was also planned. Maggie later receives a surprise visit from Georgette who says she’s in and willing to go along with this latest plan.
Sequence 6 (pages 72-89): In this sequence, Maggie takes a backseat in the narrative as we focus on a conference in Quebec at which both John and Georgette will be in attendance. Georgette orchestrated the plan (this is Georgette’s Plan) to have John be asked to give a speech. When they are snowed in, John and Georgette rekindle their romance. John cares for her in a way she needs caring for, and Georgette pats his ego in a way John needs his ego patted. They make love and proclaim their love for each other. When John returns home, he tells Maggie that he slept with Georgette and thinks he loves her still. Maggie cries, taking the news hard even if it was part of the plan. Maggie, though, tells John he should go back to Georgette if he really loves her (he does).
Act 3: (pages 90-114)
Sequence 7 (pages 90-98): Like the beginning of act 2, this is all about establishing the new status quo. We start with the nuclear family (John, Georgette, Paul, Justine) like we did at the beginning of sequence 2. We see that this gathering is awkward for a number of reasons. John and Georgette decide the kids need time to get used to the new arrangement, so John looks for another place to stay the night. He calls up Felicia and Tony and stays with them. This is the first time we seen this pairing onscreen, though it makes sense that they would know each other since John and Maggie have been married for a couple years. When Tony returns home, he is drunk and lets slip that Maggie planned for John to have this affair. John is furious that he has been manipulated as he has, and he confronts Maggie. John rips into Maggie like Georgette and Tony already have, and he leaves her, also indicating that he is leaving Georgette as well. Maggie’s plan appears to have failed.
Sequence 8 (pages 99-114): Maggie confides in Lily that she made a mess, though without sharing the details. Then Maggie tells Georgette that John found out, and Georgette reasons that he would have found out somehow anyway. Maggie takes in Georgette and her kids, and chaos ensues as she tries caring for three children and an adult woman who needs caring for. Maggie tries to convince Georgette to find a way to get back with John, but Georgette tells Maggie to let it go.
This moment is a payoff of all those other instances of the camera moving somewhere before the characters. Whether or not you notice it while watching the movie, these camera movements are clearly intentional and thematically relevant while reading the script. This line by Georgette states clearly what the reader has suspected throughout the story.
Georgette helps Maggie make a mantra to repeat, “I am not controlling.” Georgette later meets with John and gives him a copy of his book that she burned and is now a bag full of ashes. They argue briefly, and she gets through to him by telling him how to finally fix his book. They rekindle their romance. Next we see the epilogue, which is everyone ice skating at the park for Lily’s third birthday. Everyone looks happy and in their right place. Tony asks Maggie if she thinks everything would’ve worked out like this even if she hadn’t tampered with everyone’s personal lives. She considers that it’s very possible everything would indeed be the same.
By saying this, Maggie demonstrates a complete arc, growing from the person who doesn’t want to ‘leave her destiny up to destiny’ to now willing to embrace the ‘mystery of the universe.’
Lily keeps shouting out numbers, and Tony asks what three year old loves numbers so much, and this makes Maggie remember Guy’s love of numbers (as well as his love of ice skating). Suddenly Guy appears, and it’s immediately clear that Lily really is Guy’s daughter. The action description says Maggie is making her next plan, and it involves Guy.