Dark comedies, or at least films that mix comedy with very dark moments, walk an incredibly fine line. Go too far in one direction and the other element seems out of place. However, don’t pay enough attention to both and the audience might wonder why the hybrid nature is in place at all. Many attempt this, though few manage to fully succeed. John Slattery‘s Maggie Moore(s) does, though, making it a nice little surprise out of the Tribeca Film Festival.
Maggie Moore(s) shows a deft approach to tricky material. Given the plot, this easily could have been too dark or too silly. Instead, Slattery lets the noir aspects be bleak, while the humorous elements are surprisingly funny. Some of that is due to a largely comedic cast filling out this mostly serious film. However, it’s also just a strong handle on the story that the movie is telling. The early work of the Coen Brothers would be proud.
When Police Chief Jordan Sanders (Jon Hamm) and his deputy (Nick Mohammed) arrive at a crime scene, they’re confused and horrified to learn that this victim is named Maggie Moore (Mary Holland). Why? Well, just days ago, another woman named Maggie Moore (Louisa Krause) was killed. Something is up. What they don’t initially know, but we do, is that this is all a mess accidentally created by screwup Jay Moore (Micah Stock). In a bit of trouble with some shady characters, his Maggie finds out and kicks him out of the house. Needing to fix that, he hires Kosco (Happy Anderson) to scare her into silence, though the mute professional ends up silencing her permanently. Instead of grieving his wife and facing the consequences, Jay decides after a twist of fate to have Kosco kill the other Maggie Moore, moving suspicion away from him and perhaps onto that Maggie’s spouse Andy (Christopher Denham).
While Jordan is investigating, he’s growing close to Jay’s nosy neighbor Rita (Tina Fey). As we watch their tentative romance, Jay is navigating his problems, hoping to avoid suspicion. It’s obviously only a matter of time until the police figure out what’s going on, setting up a potentially bloody showdown that’s a far cry from the low-key story initially being told.
Jon Hamm gets a strong showcase here to be both smart and funny. He’s an unsurprising standout, while Nick Mohammed gets no shortage of well-timed one-liners. Mohammed breaks the tension well, while having excellent chemistry with Hamm. Tina Fey and Hamm also have a definite connection, though her role is somewhat less essential. Happy Anderson is effectively threatening, while Micah Stock is a good loser. In addition to Christopher Denham, Mary Holland, and Louisa Krause, the cast includes Nicholas Azarian, Bobbi Kitten, Oona Roche, and more.
John Slattery really should direct more. He has an eye for the working class that both this and God’s Pocket really vividly depicted. Slattery takes the screenplay by Paul Bernbaum and gives it a bit of extra oomph. The crime aspects are a little run of the mill, and the violent finale seems a bit much for what’s come before, but Slattery is focused on character, which makes all the difference.
Maggie Moore(s) has some of the bigger names at Tribeca this year, but don’t let that fool you. This is actually a rather small film, one that is more indie than you might expect. As far as the festival offerings go in 2023, this movie offers up something a little bit different. I enjoyed it and suspect that you might as well.