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. Written by
Fortissimo Films [nl]
Unique Gem With Some of the Best Performances of the Year
What Maisie Knew (2012)
*** 1/2 (out of 4)
Excellent updating of the Henry James story about a divorcing couple (Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan) and the impact that their behavior has on their young daughter Maisie (Onata Aprile) as well as the new step parents (Alexander Skarsgard, Joanna Vanderham). WHAT MAISIE KNEW isn't going to appeal to a mass audience but it's certainly a terrific little gem from directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel. What I enjoyed the most was the unique way it told the story. We never get the "full" story of everything going on but instead we get the bits and pieces that a child would remember about something. Instead of finding out why a parent leaves her at school, we just see how the child remembers being left alone. Instead of knowing what the parents are fighting about, we see how it impacts the child and her memories of it. This is a very unique way to tell the story and it gives a touch of freshness to a storyline (divorce) that we've seen before. It also doesn't hurt that the film doesn't shy away from some rather ugly behavior from the parents and especially the Moore character. To say she's an unworthy mother would be an understatement but I appreciate the film playing things straight and not ever trying to make something cute. It also doesn't hurt that we get some of the best performances that you're going to see all year with Moore doing an excellent job in her role as the busy mother who doesn't have enough time for her daughter. This is a rather ugly role so it was brave for the actress to take it on. The same with Coogan who also plays a jerk and delivers with some strong work. Both Skarsgard and Vanderham really steal the film in the roles of the step parents who find themselves being forced to deal with something they never expected. Both of them should be remembered at Oscar time but we'll see how that goes. The same is true for Aprile who doesn't get too much dialogue but we constantly see her reactions to the things going on around here. This is such an excellent and quiet performance and something you'd see in a silent movie. WHAT MAISIE KNEW is about a pretty ugly subject matter but it's a fascinating look at it for those who enjoy great performances and a unique story.
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