Michael Bergeron
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Maggie & Weiner

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A couple of films opening this weekend use The Big Apple as a grand metaphor for decay and deceit. One film is a documentary, the other fiction. Both are very good.

Maggie’s Plan proves that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. For her fifth directorial effort, writer/director Rebecca Miller — daughter of renowned writer Arthur Miller — turns motherhood and teaching tenure on its head. A comedy at heart, Maggie’s Plan stars Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, and Julianne Moore, with support from Wallace Shawn, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, and Travis Fimmel.

Tired of living single in the big city, Maggie (Gerwig) wants to conceive a child with the help of sperm donor Fimmel, a likeable hippie entrepreneur who markets pickles through Whole Foods. A university professor (Hawke) married to an even bigger professor (Moore, sporting an accent that reminds one of Madeline Kahn’s foreign sounding lisp in Blazing Saddles) starts an adulterous affair with Maggie before she can complete her artificial insemination. Eventually he divorces and marries Maggie. Flash forward a few years and they have their own nuclear family unit.

The comic tone of Maggie’s Plan comes from the way the characters display or hide their motives. People pontificate with scholastic abandon, women play head games with each other and men sit on their balls. The New York setting has been evoked like this in the past (think Woody Allen films) yet Miller finds a way to weave Chinese restaurants and book-filled shotgun apartments in a unique and original way.19WEINERweb-master768

Perhaps there’s a tendency of people with last names that are synonymous with male appendages to post pictures of said appendage on social media. Certainly Anthony Weiner never met a cell phone that didn’t want to send pictures of his cock.

The documentary Weiner offers a powerful indictment of the political process. Weiner has a pretty good democratic grasp of social issues and might have made a fair and balanced mayor of New York City. We will never know because thanks to Weinergate, he comes in dead last in a scurrilous election.

The fact that Weiner let the documentary team of Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg have unfettered access to his political campaign speaks highly of his character. After all this film would not be the must see event it is without the filmmakers ability to capture everything, warts and all. The flip side of the coin is that everybody with the possible exception of Weiner’s exceptionally composed wife Huma comes off as pompous and self-righteous.

A friend who lives in New York City assures me that the politics there are sophomoric. That much is evident from the film Weiner. The larger issue of how much national elections are shams also rears its ugly head after viewing this microcosm of the governmental process.

Maggie’s Plan and Weiner both open exclusively June 3 at the downtown Sundance Cinemas Houston.

— Michael Bergeron