Film Reviw – What Maisie Knew

What Maisie Knew (M)

Directed by: Scott McGehee, David Siegel

Starring: Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgard, Onata Aprile

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Anyone who comes from a broken home may find What Maisie Knew cuts a little too close to the bone. At times an unflinching look at the effects of a nasty break up on the innocent child caught in the middle, this film based on Henry James’ novel tackles the issue head on. Alleviated (or let down, depending on your point of view) by bouts of sentimentality, this is a dark but honest exploration of an all too common family dynamic that is scarily relatable and rarely given its due in film as it is here.

Manipulative rock star Susanna (Julianne Moore) and her art dealer husband Beale (Steve Coogan) are going though a divorce that Is far from amicable. The custody battle over their young daughter Maisie (Onata Aprile) is toughest part, with Susanna trying to keep her away form her father out of anger and spite. They share custody, but their busy schedules (her touring and his constant trips to the UK) leave Maisie in difficult spot. Custody days are often forgotten, as is who is supposed to pick her up from school on which days. The two eventually marry other people, Susanna to bar tender Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard) and Beale to Maisie’s young, attractive nanny Maro (Joanna Vanderham). The situation proves to be difficult for all to deal with and particularly poisonous for Maisie.


Amidst a sea of solid performances stands out the impossibly talented Onata Aprile, who, as Maisie, is in a constant state of woe. She wears a lifetime of pain on her emotionally drained features, a striking achievement for such an inexperienced performer. Her performance is a beacon of light in such a dark situation. We don’ just witness the divorce and custody battle, but experience it with Maisie and Aprile’s performance make it all the more heartbreaking. The weight-of-the-world pain she conveys is reminiscent of Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, but is more impressive due to her age.

At times raw, honest and harrowing, yet at other times awfully “Hollywood” and saccharine in its depictions, What Maisie Knew is an uneven affair. The power of the story is somewhat lessened in the later stages with repetition – this is essentially 100 minutes of Maisie being shafted from one guardian to the next and having to endure emotional battering after emotional battering. Character development also takes a hit when it becomes evident that not only are these people selfish, sometimes heartless and clueless but also incredibly dumb. Not one of her four guardians, who find it impossible to find the time to raise her, thinks to enrol her in day care. At one point she is dropped off at Lincoln’s workplace when he isn’t there. One staff member takes her home with her instead of calling the police. And no one seems to have the brains to call child services. Lapses in character logic aside, What Maisie Knew still carries weight and is an important story that should be seen.



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