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Maggie (2019)
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by Jay Seaver

"Impulsive behavior caught on film."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Yi Ok-Seop's "Maggie" is a genuinely peculiar little picture, and maybe could have done well being a little smaller with its eccentricity a bit more specific. It winds up being fun in spots while not quite living up to its ambitions in others, but the clever bits are quite fun.

It opens at the "Love of Maria" hospital, a former convent that has been converted into a private hospital that, with things like a space-themed x-ray room, can often seem like a fancy hotel. Nurse Yeo Yoon-Young (Lee Joo-Young) and her boyfriend Sung-Won (Koo Gyo-Hwan) get it on in that room, and when photographs from its equipment are posted on a bulletin board, chief of orthopedics Lee Kyung-Jin (Moon So-Ri) makes it very clear to Yoon-Young that this is not that sort of place. Meanwhile, Sung-Won has taken a temp job trying to fill the massive sinkholes that are appearing around Seoul, and his co-workers are even bigger screw-ups than he is.

When I was choosing films to see at the festival, the description of Maggie had me thinking it would be a farce about how everybody in a hospital thinks the picture of two people having sex in the x-ray room is their bones and soft tissue, leaving Yoon-Young (who came in to spite Kyung-Jin) and her boss the only people to care for patients and make house calls, so I was probably more disappointed than I should have been when Sung-Won and the sinkhole side winds up taking up more time later, and the really great comic hook is pushed aside. A shame, because the hospital introduces a fun group of characters, several of whom are more memorable than the ones who get actual names, and there's a great sense of dominoes falling as one thing leads to another here. It's how great episodic comedy works, and there's a keen eye for absurd detail that carries forward through the whole film.

The rest is nevertheless a decent-enough movie, but it never has a moment when anything near that interesting is going on, and the story that takes up a good chunk of the movie's back half is never up to that initial high concept. It becomes an aimless-youth picture - which, to be fair, was more or less the assignment - and just an okay one, with a Sung-Won never given an interesting hook to explain why following this screw-up is interesting, other than that he is the boyfriend of the nurse in the front half. Yi and co-writer have the makings of a sharp satire here, as Yoon-Young and Kyung-Jin run themselves ragged trying to see to the bizarre and often self-inflicted injuries of the rich while the world is literally collapsing around them, but the two don't quite connect and play off each other as well as they could (it might make for an interesting double feature with Bong Joon-Ho's Parasite nonetheless).

The film nevertheless has a nice lead performance, with Lee Joo-Young able to dive onto her character's sometimes frustratingly contrary nature, grabbing the screen even when she's supposed to be kind of secondary, able to pitch Yoon-Young's cynicism without making her hard. She pushes back, makes impulsive decisions, and contradicts herself, but that's a much more interesting take on uncertain youth than her boyfriend's relative passivity. Koo Kyo-Hwan isn't bad as Sung-Won, doing befuddlement well and acting as straight man against the more flamboyant characters working at the sinkholes. Moon So-Ri makes Kyung-Jin a fun pairing with Yoon-Young, just officious enough to clash but sympathetic against the strangeness.

Taken as a whole, "Maggie" is at least enjoyably odd, even before getting into how the title character is actually "The Fish Who Saved the Planet". Director Yi has some good ideas executed well here, but some of them might have been better saved for another movie while giving the others more room to play here.

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originally posted: 03/01/20 06:38:45
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Ok-seop Yi

Written by
  Ok-seop Yi
  Gyo-hwan Koo

  Ju-young Lee
  Kyo-hwan Koo
  So-ri Moon
  Gyo-hwan Koo

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