Review by Sean Boelman
Fans are hoping that the second time's the charm for Mad Men alum John Slattery, as his debut feature God’s Pocket received a lukewarm response. Despite being one of the more star-studded films in this year’s Tribeca lineup, reuniting Slattery with his former co-star Jon Hamm, Maggie Moore(s) is a big letdown due to less-than-satisfying writing and direction.
The movie follows the residents of a typically sleepy small town as their lives become infinitely more interesting when two women with the same name are murdered within days of each other. This tale of mistaken identity is told from the perspective of both the sheriff investigating the crimes and the buffoons who order and execute the killings, which sounds like an interesting setup but bafflingly comes up short.
The biggest issue with Maggie Moore(s) is its pacing, which desperately wants to be a mystery despite everything being so painfully obvious. Although what we have here is not a whodunnit by any means, this film would have been so much more effective had it fully embraced the fact that the audience knows who the bad guy is and created a reverse whodunnit — a formula perfectly by the Peacock series Poker Face just this year.
It also certainly would have helped if the characters in the movie were more compelling. Slattery is clearly trying to go for the small-town charm of modern neo-noirs, but it backfires on him here. For example, why are we supposed to care about the owner of a sub shop franchise who uses moldy meat and cheese — a SUBplot which is far too prominent for how meaningless it is.
Because the film is so weighed down by its web of subplots, it becomes difficult to tell exactly what the movie is trying to say. The core message seems to be that bad people will get their comeuppance, but this is defeated by the fact that the film is fundamentally about two undeserving murder victims. Ultimately, the movie ends up feeling off-puttingly nihilistic, and doesn’t back that up with an insightful perspective.
Although the cast is filled with talented A-listers, that doesn’t make any difference when they feel woefully miscast in their roles. For example, whose idea was it to cast Jon Hamm as a character that’s socially awkward? He’s occasionally very funny, but it simply doesn’t feel right seeing him not be charming. Tina Fey is playing a character that is slightly more on brand, but is wasted as the love interest. Nick Mohammed — who you might recognize as Nate from Ted Lasso — is only seldom funny as the sidekick. And what the hell is Happy Anderson even doing in his nonverbal role?
The film is also shockingly bland from a visual standpoint, which is surprising considering that there are so many influences from which Slattery could have drawn. Instead, the movie adopts an aesthetic reminiscent of the type of shabby roadside motel that pops up a few times in the film.
Maggie Moore(s) is a massive waste of potential considering how talented Slattery is, as well as the cast he managed to assemble. It’s a disappointingly dull crime dramedy that is light on laughs and even lighter on thrills.
Maggie Moore(s) screens at the 2023 Tribeca Festival, which runs June 7-18 in NYC and June 19 through July 2 online.