Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 14th, 2023
Maggie Moore(s) (John Slattery, 2023) 2½ out of 4 stars.
“Some of this actually happened.” So begins Maggie Moore(s), actor John Slattery’s first feature as director since his 2014 God’s Pocket. And it turns out that something quite like the events in the film did, in fact, happen, in 2000 in Texas, when two women named Mary Morris were killed three days apart. To this day, no one knows the reason behind those crimes, but that didn’t stop screenwriter Paul Bernbaum (Hollywoodland) from coming up with a dark comedy inspired by them. And here we are with a film that never really has true bite, yet sinks its fingers enough into the material to scratch at least some kind of cinematic itch.
Jon Hamm (Confess Fletch) stars as the local police chief, Jordan Sanders, who is called in to investigate the murder of one Maggie Moore, the morning after we watch her chased through a motel complex at night. When his deputy, Reddy (Nick Mohammed, Nathan Shelley on Apple’s Ted Lasso), tells Sanders the name of the victim, he does a double take, which flashes us back to 10 days earlier and the events that set it all in motion, when a different Maggie Moore was previously killed.
There is some definite joy to be had in the unfolding of plot, so best to leave most of the details for the viewer to discover. But know that there are many narrative threads woven into the cinematic quilt, and one of them brings us to Rita (Tina Fey, Wine Country), an initially nosy neighbor who soon becomes a love interest for the widowed Sanders. Their burgeoning romance is just one of the multiplicity of stories within.
There’s also a burly, deaf hitman (Happy Anderson, The New Mutants) and a very anxious (and sleazy) husband (Micah Stock, Brittany Runs a Marathon) of one of the Maggies. Filled with quirky scenes that mix tragedy and wit, the film manages a lighthearted tone, throughout. Which is both good and bad.
We never feel the true weight of the crimes until the end, when an important supporting player meets a bitter end. It’s a sad moment, but also a predictable one, given that the nature of that poor soul’s relationship with one of the main characters long telegraphed their fate. Plus, as the only person of color with any real lines, it was inevitable that they become a dramatic sacrifice.
Despite these issues, Maggie Moore(s) still proves a frequently satisfying watch, in part thanks to Hamm and Fey, whose chemistry helps them through all kinds of awkward scenes. But unlike in real life, where no one has discovered the true cause of Mary Morris and Mary Morris’ demise, here we know early on both why killing #1 occurred, and how it leads to killing #2. While there is therefore little mystery, the easygoing charm and occasional thrills are often enough.