What Maisie Knew (2012)

What Maisie Knew (2012)
  • Time: 93 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Directors: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
  • Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan


‘What Maisie Knew’ is a contemporary New York City re-visioning of the Henry James novel by the same name, written by Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne. It revolves around unwitting 7-year-old Maisie, caught in the middle of a custody battle between her mother Suzanna, an aging rock star, and her father, Beale, a major art dealer. In a race to win the court’s advantage, Beale marries Maisie’s nanny Margo, prompting Suzanna in turn to marry friend and local bartender, Lincoln. Both forced into a battle neither wishes to be a part of, Margo and Lincoln come to empathize with Maisie’s position and over time with one another’s. Teased by the notion of making their own surrogate family, the trio must either submit to the will of Maisie’s parents or eventually face their wrath.

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  • Some children are blessed with loving parents, while others are stuck with horribly egocentric folk that just can’t get along, to the detriment of their offspring. Poor Maisie (young newcomer Onata Aprile, only 7 years old at the time of shooting) unfortunately has to contend with the latter, as her terrible excuses for parents, played by Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan, simply cannot see eye to eye about anything and only communicate by shouting at each other and arguing ad nauseam. Maisie can’t remember ever seeing them in another, happier state of their relationship and has gotten used to their constant petty bickering, but doesn’t let it get her down as she tries to make the best of it. Of course, the question always on our mind is: does she understand that the emotionally unhealthy environment she’s growing up in is not the regular way for children to mature? Could she ever choose between her mother or her father if it came down to it as they are both lobbying for her unwavering love? Coogan and Moore certainly excel in playing people you just can’t help but hate for how they’re so obviously ruining Maisie’s childhood, a fact they ignore because they are more concerned for besting the other in winning Maisie’s love. While we are busy detesting these horrible guardians for causing her to accept a living condition that is quite simply unacceptable to behold for anybody with a slightest sense of responsibility, hope looms on the horizon as her parents both mix up with just the right people to turn her life into a more positive direction. Her father marries her foreign (Scottish) nanny, while her mother hooks up with a seemingly not so bright, tall guy (Alexander Skarsgård attempting to shed some of that sinister, scheming vampire image of his, courtesy of True Blood, by playing a sweet, easily likable bartender). Unfortunately the story soon progresses in the most predictable of directions as these two people, who actually care more about Maisie as a person than as a means of annoying the other by acquiring custody of the girl, come to understand just how easy it is to love this charming child and agree how much she deserves to be taken care of by decent folks. And naturally they can’t help themselves by also falling in love with each other when they realize just what a manipulative, sleazy people Moore and Coogan are, abusing both them and Maisie for their own purposes as they keep up their disgusting little power play. In terms of plot development, we soon come to know that What Maisie Knew has little surprises to offer while delivering its fairly repetitive, one-sided melodrama. The film makes up for this in the acting department, where young Aprile stuns the audience with a most exceptional, truly inspiring and convincing performance; a remarkably rare occurrence for such a young child, but a solid promise for her future career in acting should she decide to keep it up (we can only hope). While the adult actors go through the motions in a more regular fashion, which isn’t devoid of merit but simply not nearly as mesmerizing, Aprile carries the film as very few other actresses her age could ever have done, proving just how much truth there is in that old adage that good casting is doing half the work. What Maisie Knew is just average in all other regards, but a fabulous performance like this is well worth checking out, as it is so seldom witnessed.

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