*CUT TO THE CHASE*
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Mark
The film starts with Maggie (Greta Gerwig) helping a blind man across the street. She meets her friend, Tony (Bill Hader) in Washington Square Park (NYC) and talk about how she is about to be artificially inseminated by a guy she met in college. She says she wants to be a mother but alone because none of her romantic relationships last more than six months. Tony points out they dated for two years; she writes that off because they were in college. She mentions that the guy whose sperm she is using is the weird Math major they both knew who is now a “pickle entrepreneur.” Maggie meets the guy, named Guy (Travis Fimmel) at his pickle business in Brooklyn. Guy is a sort of hipster with a long beard; he points out has expanded his business to three employees and that Whole Foods may possibly sell their product in stores. She gives him the sterile cup for his semen sample and tells him to keep it warm until he can drop it off. He asks what kind of involvement she expects him to have in the child’s life and she says none.
Maggie goes to The New College where she works as a career advisor to art and design students. She stops by the secretary’s office to tell her that she received two paychecks instead of one. This ends up being a mix-up because her birth name is very close to an adjunct anthropology professor named John Harding (Ethan Hawke) who happens to stop by, complaining that he hasn’t received his check. The two leave and begin a conversation in the park, listening to a man recite Shakespeare for tips. John tells Maggie about his wife, Georgette, who is a professor at Columbia and a published author. He says that she’s wonderful but she is destroying his life. John further explains that he has been trying to write a book but has put his dreams on hold in exchange for Georgette’s career. John uses the analogy that in every relationship there is a gardener and there is a rose and he is the gardener. He then asks Maggie if she’ll read the first chapter of his book and she agrees, enthusiastically. He realizes he is running late and rushes off.
John gets to Columbia where he joins his wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore) on stage at a discussion on ficto-critical anthropology, moderated by Wallace Shawn. Georgette speaks with a distinctive Danish accent and seems to revel in being intellectually superior to John. Back at The New College, Maggie spots John during a lunch break and asks Tony’s wife, Felicia (Maya Rudolph) about him. She tells him that he’s a “panty melter.”
At home, John has dinner with his family but both Georgette and his two kids are too busy with their electronic devices to have a healthy conversation. So he responds to a text, too from Maggie, who said she finished reading the first chapter of his book. Maggie and John have another meeting in the park and she tells him she loved what she’s read of his book so far. Her encouragement brings John happiness as he’s used to having this part of his life neglected at home. Because of the cold weather, Maggie suggests going back to her place. Her apartment is filled with piles of books but she explains that they actually belong to the poet who she works for. John makes hot whiskey for the two of them using lemons and honey.
Maggie talks to Tony and Felicia about how she is about to get the sperm sample from Guy and Tony mentions again how he’s an idiot yet somehow a math genius. She rushes home to get her sperm sample from Guy. When he shows up, he tells her he is willing to give her his sperm the old-fashioned way. She politely declines. He has forgotten the sterile cup but luckily she has another one. He goes into her bathroom to produce a sperm sample and comes out almost immediately. After he leaves, Maggie goes to the bathtub and tries to artificially inseminate herself with a turkey baster. This process is interrupted as there is a buzzing at the intercom. She rushes over to respond, dropping some of the sample; it is John downstairs. She tells him it will be a moment and wipes up the floor. When she finally goes downstairs, he is still there. Up in her room, she begins telling him she likes the new chapters of his book, which seems to be slightly autobiographical in that she mentions the uptight wife character. He tells her that he has left Georgette and has nowhere to go. John gets on his knees and tells Maggie he is in love with her. He begins to undress her and they have sex.
The film immediately cuts to three years later. John and Maggie are now married, living with their three-year-old daughter in a spacious apartment. When John gets a call that his son has hurt his leg and needs to be picked up from school early, Maggie and him debate about who should go. Both of them have meetings Maggie with a student who she’s helping pitch an idea for an anatomically correct baby doll. She decides to cancel her meeting so John can go to his. John’s son is disappointed to see Maggie. They then have to wait a long time to pick up his sister from her school, wasting Maggie’s afternoon. Annoyed by the noise that the boy is making towards her baby, Maggie asks him to go see why his sister is running late. She notices he rushes up the stairs, no longer faking an injury. John’s daughter arrives and explains that she couldn’t find her shoes after gym class.
When they get back home, John is on the phone with Georgette. He explains he ended up missing his meeting because Georgette was having trouble deciding which UK publisher to choose for her new book. Maggie complains that she missed out on her meeting so he could go to his and he didn’t and all to talk to his ex-wife about her book which is about their divorce. She also points out that their son faked an injury because he was expecting his dad to pick him up since it was his visitation time and he wanted to spend more time with him.
Maggie pushes her infant daughter in a stroller and passes Guy, selling pickles at a food stand outside Washington Square Park. He asks if the baby is his but she explains that she got married shortly after he dropped off the sperm. She mentions his math wizardry and Guy tells her how he’s always had a brain for math. He then tells her that Whole Foods is going to now be selling their pickles and gives her a large jar, free of charge.
At home, life becomes mundane for Maggie. John is more and more focused on his book and becomes distant towards her, completely self-consumed. It is the opposite of his marriage to Georgette in which he was the one doing all the work to keep the family in tact. The two of them have discussed going on a trip but Georgette has to go out of town so they will not be alone anymore (they’ll have to watch John’s kids) so it is cancelled. When they have dinner, everyone at the table is texting, once again like John’s marriage to Georgette.
Maggie complains to Tony and Felicia that she is now the gardener and John is the rose. She is working full-time while he has quit his job as a professor to work solely as a book. The book is now 500 pages and he doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon he keeps adding and adding to it and she can no longer give notes because he seems to make it up as he goes.
Georgette is having a book signing in the city so Felicia and Maggie crash the event to finally be able to study her Maggie has never met her, despite being the stepmother to her children. Georgette reads from her new book, Bring Back the Geisha, which is about how her husband had an affair with another woman and left her. Maggie is in awe of her and wonders if somehow they could do a switch John can go back to Georgette, as Maggie is not used to being in a long-term relationship and wants to be single again.
Maggie drops the kids off at Georgette’s house and is set to go inside. But she keeps loitering by the sidewalk. The children talk to each other in Danish about how weird they think Maggie is. They ask if she’s coming inside. She tells them she’s just shocked she found a legal parking spot in that area and keeps checking the sign. Inside, Maggie spots a picture of John on the wall. She suggests to Georgette that John and her might get back together. Georgette claims Maggie just feels guilty about being the “other woman” who convinced a man to leave his wife and this is her way of righting her wrong. Maggie leaves, discovering a parking ticket on her windshield.
Later, at work, Georgette stops by the campus and tells Maggie she’s thought it over and she’s “in.” She tells Maggie that she’ll be attending an academic conference for Ficto-Critical Anthropologists in Quebec and suggests getting John to go. Georgette can get John invited to speak and points out that his favorite philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, will be there.
At home, John mentions cavalierly that he got invited to speak at a conference but he is ready to rule it out in exchange for plans he had already made with Maggie. She convinces him to go and he tells her how excited he is because Slavoj Zizek will be there.
John spots Georgette at dinner when he first arrives in Canada. He tries to have a conversation but she is not able to engage him, resorting back to her icy personality. But everything changes when all of the speakers go skiing together Georgette cannot walk in her snow shoes so she falls far behind the others. John is a gentleman and stays behind to assist her and soon they are completely separated from the pack. While they search for the lodge in the snow-filled woods, they rekindle the chemistry they had as a couple. Georgette asks to read John’s book as she knows he brought a copy. He agrees. When they get back to the resort, there is a power outage and they will be snowed in at the resort for several days. Georgette and John go back to his room and get romantic.
When he returns to Manhattan, John tells Maggie straight up that he ran into Georgette and admits that they had sex. She is not angry with him but encouraging, telling him that maybe it’s best that they get back together. John becomes fixated on Georgette again. He visits his kids at his former home and they seem very confused to see him there. After he is supposed to have left, he stays upstairs to have sex with Georgette again but the kids keep calling out to their mom so he finally just leaves for real.
Maggie continues to build a relationship with her three-year-old daughter, as the single mother as she always envisioned it. They have a cute scene in a bathtub where Maggie asks for advice on John.
John visits Felicia to talk about things. Tony comes home, drunk. When John mentions he is getting back together with Georgette, John points out that Maggie’s plan worked. That’s when John realizes him falling back in love with Georgette was all constructed by Maggie. He confronts her at their home. She admits to the scheming but wonders if their relationship would have been rekindled without her involvement, being that they’re such a natural pair.
Georgette, John, and Maggie begin to co-exist with their children in Maggie and John’s apartment. Georgette likes Maggie because she considers her pure albeit a little stupid. John’s children are able to have a meal at the table without electronic devices and seem to respect Maggie’s contribution to their lives more now. After John goes out and Maggie leaves to drop the kids off at school, Georgette stays behind to read his book. Without explanation, she puts the manuscript in a trash can and burns it.
Georgette meets John for lunch and brings along the pieces of the charred manuscript. But instead of telling him she hates it, she explains that it can be improved and she is able to pinpoint exactly how he needs to focus more on the scientific analysis, which he is known for, rather than polluting the story with narrative, etc. He is impressed at her literary mind and how she always knows exactly what is best for him. She also offers to help him get published and knows which publisher is most suitable. It’s obvious that they are a good yin and yang, especially now that Georgette respects John’s career and it’s an equal partnership.
Georgette and John officially get back together but Maggie remains in their life. The trio go ice-skating with their three kids, as well as Tony and Felicia and their son. Maggie is glad that her plan to get John back with Georgette has worked but says she is done playing matchmaker. On the ice, Maggie’s daughter begins counting and it is noted that she seems to have a rare understanding for math which doesn’t seem to be genetic as it’s not a characteristic anyone in Maggie’s or John’s family has. Just then, Guy appears on the ice and there is a spark between him and Maggie. The film ends but it is implied that the artificial insemination that happened on the same night Maggie had sex with John might have been more effective than she assumed.