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What Maisie Knew is a contemporary New York City revisioning of the Henry James novel by the same name. It revolves around unwitting 7-year-old Maisie, caught in the middle of a custody battle between her mother Susanna, an aging rock star, and her father, Beale, a major art dealer. Written by
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Greetings again from the darkness. An ultra-modern update of the 1897 Henry James novel introduces us to parents we know, but wish we didn't. Steve Coogan plays Beale, a self-absorbed art dealer. Julianne Moore plays Susanna, a self-absorbed rock star. OK, you and I may not know art dealers and rock stars, but we know self-absorbed types and we know they make terrible parents. So not only do we know it, but it's also what Maisie knows.
Five outstanding performances and strong work by co-directors Scott McGhee and David Siegel prevent this one from spinning off into the neverlands of melodramatic muck. Onata Aprile is a wonder as Maisie. She displays none of the typical "movie kid" precociousness. The movie (and James novel) are told from her point of view. We see the fragmented bits and pieces she experiences as her parents fight. Rather than a full story, we share her moments of late pick-ups, early drop-offs and forgotten trips.
Soon enough Beale and Susanna are divorced and the real wars begin. These despicable adults make little effort in hiding their hatred of each other from 6 year old Maisie. It becomes background noise to her life. Further proof of the epic narcissism from both, Beale soon marries Margot the nanny (played by Joanna Vanderham) and Susanna reacts by marrying Lincoln, a band gopher and bartender played by studly Alexander Skarsgard. The most startling moment of the movie occurs when Lincoln first begins playing with Maisie ... it's as if we had almost forgotten what it means to give your attention to a child.
This is not an easy film to watch ... at least if you understand that parenting means putting yourself second. The directors do a wonderful job of showing us how Maisie takes in moments and what memories she makes from these. The neglect and false moments of caring from her parents make her acceptance of the attention to her step-parents even more poignant. We can't help but hope things work out for this little girl and it's a reminder that childhood innocence cannot be recaptured once lost ... and it's worth hanging on to for as long as possible.
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