Mad Men’s John Slattery’s second directorial feature Maggie Moore (s) is a quirky yet messy dark comedy that meanders for most of its 90 min runtime. The film fits within the milieu of comedies resembling The Nice Guys and the atmosphere of Better Call Saul but ultimately fails at emulating both. It fails at emulating much of anything in the end except for the parts that focus on the personal life of its lead character. Slattery compiles two different narratives in a single film which pulls its audience all over the place. It’s not an intentional narrative misdirection that feels part of the story but an indecisive mess.
Set in the suburban outskirts of a small desert town, Maggie Moore (S) follows the murder of two women by the same name. Hence the clever addition of the “S” in the title of Maggie Moore (S). It is up to a recently widowed Police Chief, Jordan Sanders (Jon Hamm), to solve the crime. Along for the ride is a scene-stealing Nick Muhammed as Sanders’s partner, Deputy Reddy. It’s a confusing, albeit causing, ride as Slattery attempts to keep hold itself above water half the time. With a tenuous grip on
The crime itself serves no real purpose to the overall narrative. Small-time criminal Jay Moore (Micah Stock) accidentally leaves a package unattended that comes at the cost of two Maggie Moores. One happens to be his wife. The other? A cover-up for the first Maggie Moore. It’s all a little nonsensical. It’s not the kind of insincerity that makes you laugh but tilt your head in confusion. By the end of the film, the central plot of the crime becomes irrelevant and disconnected from everything else that’s going on. It’s a disorienting back and forth from a little dark comedy to a romcom that causes significant whiplash. By the time you get off, you stumble straight into a wall.
Amid so much narrative disorder, this film has one apparent cohesion: the chemistry between Hamm and Fey. Tina Fey plays the noisy yet endearing neighbor that unintentionally embroiled in this murder-for-hire plot and almost loses her life for it too. But that’s not where Fey shines the brightest. Her chemistry with Hamm could be a film all on its own—a rom-com at that. There seemed to be a very clear distinction between the crime drama taking place while Hamm and Fey meandered down dating after divorce/death. The instinct was to stick with Fey and Hamm as they shed their pasts to forge a future together. It’s a shame the film returned to that pesky murder of the two Maggie Moores.
Maggie Moore (s) is serviceable at best and dull at worst. The film only crystalizes whenever Fay and Hamm come on screen; otherwise, it fizzles. It’s a shame that a film with such a high-caliber cast underutilizes their talents. Even Muhammed, who oozes charisma and humor, is given very little to work with. The plot was not strong enough to justify the characters merely reacting to a world that isn’t at all interested in them. Slattery’s vision of the dark comedy has some future, but I think there’s a potential rom-com lover at his core.