Thursday , May 23 2024
Tina Fey, Jon Hamm, Maggie Moore(s)
Tina Fey, Jon Hamm in 'Maggie Moore(s) (courtesy of ' Maggie Moore(s)' and Tribeca Film Festival)

Tribeca Film Festival Review: In ‘Maggie Moore(s),’ Evil Lurks in a Small Town

Crime does not pay well for the lower-class characters in Maggie Moore(s). With a weird domino effect petty crimes easily beget murder. Maggie Moore(s), a Spotlight Narrative Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2023, stars Jon Hamm and Tina Fey as would-be lovers who can’t get to second base. Directed by Hamm’s Mad Men co-star John Slattery and written by Paul Bernbaum, the film entertains because of its superb actors. The quirky, sardonic comedy is also a quasi-crime drama and a human story of misfits in a small town in New Mexico. It underscores all the craven aspects of human nature, writ small.

Bernbaum and Slattery align two elements to introduce their themes. They select nighttime shots of a woman chased by a large, shadowy, slow-moving figure, cornering and killing a victim. Contrast abounds against those nightmare images: In a benign, well-lit adult classroom, Jordan Sanders (Hamm) reads a story he’s written. This situation also closes the film. Thus, we observe life’s extremes, the nightmare horrific coexisting with quiet introspection and the mundane. Together they comprise the life and times of Police Chief Sanders, who we discover is still mourning his dead wife.

The film’s elements reveal human nature in polar opposites

These elements also reveal the polar opposites of the human condition stretched to its limits. Throughout, the film reveals the inner and outer edges of the wacky, hapless, purposeless characters living in a scrub-brush desert area. At its nuanced best the film shifts in and out of the banality of evil found in the human soul. At its worst its understatements about human weakness and the cowardly susceptibility to choose the easy, wicked way out of trouble fall flat.

The “whodunit” mystery never centers Maggie Moore(s). Instead, we understand up front the wayward characters’ movements toward murder. Sub shop franchise owner Jay Moore (Micah Stock) makes a shady deal to buy moldy food to save money. In exchange, he channels illicit pornography to the scurrilous Tommy T (Derek Basco). Tommy T has no compunctions about selling the potentially deadly food to Jay, who uses it.

When Jay’s wife Maggie (Louisa Krause) opens Jay’s mail and finds the porn, she kicks Jay out of the house. Threatening to go to the police, Maggie #1 also threatens divorce. In trouble with Tommy T for not delivering the pictures, Jay makes another deal with Tommy to rein in his wife. The plan backfires and Kosco, a scary, deaf giant (Happy Anderson), kills Jay’s Maggie.

Director John Slatterly introduces his film Maggie Moore(s) at the SVA screening (Carole Di Tosti)

Chief Sanders and deputy Nate investigate

Police Chief Sanders investigates the crime scene with Nate (the very funny Nick Mohammed). The burned body in the car shocks both of them. Subsequently, with his sleuthing powers primed, they trace the body’s identity back to husband Jay. From Jay’s neighbor, the divorced Rita Grace (Fey), the Chief gains valuable information, while allowing her easy humor to revitalize him. With Nate’s encouragement, the two form an attachment. Eventually, Rita throws herself at Jordan, but they can’t engage sexually because Jordan still grieves his wife’s loss.

Meanwhile, Jay discovers another Maggie Moore (Mary Holland) living in an upscale part of town. He devises a strategy to throw off Jordan, who scents him as the most likely suspect. To cover up the initial murder, Jay hires Kosco to kill Maggie #2. Once more, Slattery forces us to live through the nightmare scenario of a woman threatened and chased by the shadowy figure. However, this time the scene completes; the identity of the shadowy figure clarifies and Maggie #2’s terror magnifies. Cornered, she jumps off a balcony and lives only to be shot in the head by Kosco, who makes a pathetic mistake.

The husbands are suspects

The plot complicates. Sanders identifies Maggie #2’s husband Andy Moore (Christopher Denham) as a suspect because of his affair with a stripper. However, Andy blames the town Nazi, Duane Rich (Tate Ellington). Duane threatened to kill his “Jew” wife. At this point, Jordan and Nate can’t see through the fog blown at them by the husbands, who have alibis.

What follows develops with verve and unexpected urgency. With the guilty suspects lined up in a row, how will the investigators bring these folks to justice? What invisible clues have the murderers left to nail their rotten souls to adequate jail sentences and maximum security prisons?

A surprising conclusion

The shocking, stark conclusion reels with violence. And some beloved characters don’t survive. Considering the prospects of Jay Moore’s stupid behaviors, how Kosco deals with him unsettles. At the conclusion the poignant drift of humanity that Jordan Sanders captures in his piece about “happiness” codifies all of the characters he’s met on this journey into the abyss.

From the tone of the cinematography to the strangeness of the terrain and matching characters, the depth of Maggie Moore(s) stands out, bleakly humorous. Goodness and the banality of evil at war leave an uncertain ending. Maybe Rita and Jordan will be able to hit their relationship out of the park after all. Look for Maggie Moore(s) on streaming platforms. For more information visit the Tribeca Film Festival website.

About Carole Di Tosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is a published writer, playwright, novelist, poet. She owns and manages three well-established blogs: 'The Fat and the Skinny,' 'All Along the NYC Skyline' ( 'A Christian Apologists' Sonnets.' She also manages the newly established 'Carole Di Tosti's Linchpin,' which is devoted to foreign theater reviews and guest reviews. She contributed articles to Technorati (310) on various trending topics from 2011-2013. To Blogcritics she has contributed 583+ reviews, interviews on films and theater predominately. Carole Di Tosti also has reviewed NYBG exhibits and wine events. She guest writes for 'Theater Pizzazz' and has contributed to 'T2Chronicles,' 'NY Theatre Wire' and other online publications. She covers NYC trending events and writes articles promoting advocacy. She professionally free-lanced for TMR and VERVE for 1 1/2 years. She was a former English Instructor. Her published dissertation is referenced in three books, two by Margo Ely, Ph.D. Her novel 'Peregrine: The Ceremony of Powers' will be on sale in January 2021. Her full length plays, 'Edgar,' 'The Painter on His Way to Work,' and 'Pandemics or How Maria Caught Her Vibe' are being submitted for representation and production.

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