By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
The influence of the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece Fargo cannot be overstated considering the wealth of films that have tried to evoke the film’s signature dark humor and crime/mystery themes. Maggie Moore(s), a new film from director John Slattery premiering at this year’s Tribeca Festival, takes a Fargo-esque story, moves it to the desert of Arizona, and assembles a strong cast, all of which culminate in a light-hearted and compelling thriller.
Maggie Moore(s) stars Jon Hamm as Jordan Sanders, a police chief in a small Arizona town who tries to solve the murder of a woman named Maggie Moore. It appears to be a somewhat straightforward case, that is, until another woman named Maggie Moore is found dead. Sanders teams up with his partner, played by Ted Lasso’s Nick Mohammed, and one of the victim’s neighbors, played by Tina Fey, to uncover the mystery behind the deaths of the two Maggie Moores.
The Fargo comparisons are inevitable, especially as the layers of the mystery are gradually unraveled, but drawing inspiration from a classic film to generate something novel and exciting can’t be faulted. The twists and turns of the mystery are captivating and make transitioning from scene to scene delightfully unpredictable given that it’s never clear what is going to happen next. Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, Maggie Moore(s) screenwriter Paul Bernbaum crafts a lean script with every scene holding a purpose and the story always propelling forward. It’s a testament then to the tight script and the steady directing from John Slattery that Maggie Moore(s) never becomes convoluted or over-complicated, a potential failing of many of these dark comedy crime thrillers with plenty of characters to keep track of.
And, like Fargo, Maggie Moore(s) aims for a dry and witty sense of humor to complement its seedy premise. Unfortunately, however, the humor doesn’t really land. While never becoming cringe-worthy, the one-liners and gags in Maggie Moore(s), for the most part, just aren’t that clever. This especially marks a real missed opportunity for the film given the comedic talents of Tina Fey and Nick Hohammed at its disposal. An odd joke here and there may work, but the majority of the film’s successful attempts at humor spawn from the ridiculousness of some of the characters and their strange behavior and decisions.
What Maggie Moore(s) lacks in humor though, it makes up for with a surprisingly endearing romance at its core. Jon Hamm’s police chief is introduced as grieving the loss of his wife and soon finds a degree of comfort with Tina Fey’s character, a nosy neighbor of one of the titular Maggie Moores. The romance is mature and feels genuine, so much so that it could be sufficient as the basis for another movie entirely free of murder and mayhem.
Much of this romance, in addition to the film’s other quirks and beats, work well as director John Slattery benefits from a strong cast. Slattery directs his Mad Men co-star Jon Hamm, who brings a warmth and presence to the film’s proceedings. In a film populated with seedy and duplicitous characters, Hamm proves to be a much needed likable hero to root for. As is Tina Fey, whose character Rita’s natural curiosity and nosiness puts her on a collision course with Hamm’s police chief.
Conversely, Ted Lasso’s Nick Mohammed seems miscast as another police officer trying to solve the dual Maggie Moore murders. Mohammed brings the dry humor of his character Nate from the hit Apple TV+ show to Maggie Moore(s), but, as Jon Hamm’s character points out on a number of occasions in the film, Mohammed’s jokes either aren’t that funny or are a bit mean-spirited.
Playing a significant role in the film and stealing scene after scene is Micah Stock, who plays the husband of one of the deceased Maggie Moores. Stock is integral to the film’s plot and plays a character that is the perfect blend of detestable and captivating. In addition to Stock, there are a number of interesting and idiosyncratic side characters who fluctuate in and out of the film as Hamm investigates the double murders, with those played by Bobbi Kitten and Derek Basco being particularly memorable.
Mad Men reunite as John Slattery directs his former co-star Jon Hamm in this black comedy crime thriller premiering at Tribeca Festival. Excelling more with its twist and turns-filled narrative than its dry and flat humor, Maggie Moore(s) adopts strands of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo and takes them to the desert of Arizona. Jon Hamm and Tina Fey are charming as the film explores an unexpectedly heartfelt romance, while Micah Stock delivers a scene-stealing performance as the husband of a murder victim. All of this culminates in a captivating mystery drama with a unique and mysterious plot that is certainly worth a watch.