"This is my new stepfather. My father married my nanny, so Court made my mommy get married too."
What Maisie Knew is a wonderful adaptation of Henry James's novel of the same name. Writers, Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright, managed to capture the spirit of the novel really well. It is a great (although difficult) film with some very memorable performances thanks to some well developed characters. Directors, Scott McGehee and David Siegel, succeeded in focusing on the small details and interior of each character rather than on the big melodramatic moments. Despite all the drama, this film always manages to stay small and let us experience things through the eyes of the 7 year old lead character. It is her memories we are seeing and the way the film was edited draws us into her character and helps us identify with the things she is going through. This film might just be one of the best movies about divorced parenting. Through the eyes of Maisie the audience can experience the difficult situations she has to go through because of her parents neglect. It is such a surprise to see how James's novel which was written about a century ago still remains so contemporary now. The film felt so real and authentic and it was easy to relate to the story as well. The directors approached this story of a dysfunctional family in a very sensitive manner and it really worked. What Maisie Knew is a very touching film and one I'd definitely recommend, especially if you like tasteful character studies of human nature. I found this film to be very emotional without being manipulative or melodramatic and definitely one all parents should watch.
Maisie (Onata Aprile) is the tender and loving 7 year old daughter of Beale (Steve Coogan), an art dealer who travels a lot for work, and Susanna (Julianne Moore) a rock star whose glory days are a bit behind her. They have a beautiful apartment in New York and seem to be living very well, but Maisie's world is shaken when her parents get divorced and fight for custody over her in court. The judge decides that they both share custody so the film follows Maisie as she lives ten days with her mother and ten with her father. When she arrives at her father's place she is sort of surprised to find her nanny, Margo (Joanna Vanderham) living their, but she is glad to have her company. Margo and Maisie get along really well and since her father travels a lot she spends most of her time with her. Then when Maisie returns with her mother she finds out that she is dating a younger man named Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard). Lincoln has no clue about parenting and at first their relationship is kind of strange, but with her mother gone for most of the day the two begin to bond and form a special relationship. Despite her parents neglect, Maisie enjoys most of her days with her step parents who really seem to care for her more than her parents. Susanna and Beale do love Maisie and have a good relationship with her, but they are so focused on their jobs and their right to have custody over her that they actually neglect Maisie along the way.
The film can be disturbing at times because divorce and parental neglect can be rough, but the story is told in a very sensitive manner. The true star of the film is the 7 year old Onata Aprile who really delivers a powerful emotional performance. This is a girl who is forced to adapt to the different changes in her life at such a young age and despite the complexity of the role, Aprile really captures the heart of the character. Julianne Moore also stands out in her role as the neglectful parent. She really is unlikable, but she gives a memorable performance and kind of stands out as this year's best female villain. The film takes a very different perspective on divorce as it centers the action around the little girl, instead of the parents. It's the innocence through which she sees everything that captivates the audience. She has to pay for her parents sins, but she manages to adapt along the way. Aprile may not have a lot of lines in the film, but her emotions can be read through her facial expressions. She deserves a lot of recognition for her performance. Skarsgard and Vanderham play the most likable characters in this film so it is easy to like them in their lovable roles and I enjoyed their performance. This is a film you won't want to miss.