What Maisie Knew Review

What Maisie Knew (2012) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin


Directors: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Writers: Nancy Doyne (screenplay by), Carroll Cartwright (screenplay by)
Stars: Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgård, Steve Coogan, Joanna Vanderham, Onata Aprile

“What Maisie Knew” is set in New York City and is about a young girl who is caught in the middle of her parents’ bitter custody battle. The Movie is based on the acclaimed novel by Henry James. The story is primarily focused from 6 year old Maisie’s perspective and is portrayed by the Onata Aprile who is unfortunately caught in the midst of a bitter custody battle between her mother Susanna (Moore) and father Beale (Coogan)

Susanna is an ageing rockstar and from what I gather Moore used real life inspiration from Courtney Love and Patti Smith for her character in this movie. Moore’s portrayal throughout the movie is frustrating and brilliant at the same time. Committed to touring and battling against her husband for custody for her daughter results in emotional abandonment and neglect.

The same can be said for Beale who is an Art-Dealer struggling for work in New York and commits his time to traveling for business and like Susanna results in emotional neglect. Moore and Coogan appear to be the same side of the coin in many ways. They use their daughter as pawn against each other and abandon her with their Nanny named Margo (Vanderham) when they are too busy and in near enough every scene with them their young daughter is witnessing argument after argument.

Onata Aprile as Maisie plays the role naturally as a subdued child not showing physical signs of trauma because of her nature to take things in her stride. Aprile is brilliant and you really do feel for her and the situation she is in. For me Susanna and Beale don’t deserve Maisie (as stated by Lincoln later in the movie) they are selfish and very egotistical and their abandonment of their child at the drop of a hat infuriated me. Thankfully there are people in Maisie’s life who are willing to step up and look after the girl.

Ironically, Beale marries former nanny Margo (Vanderham), and in retaliation Susanna also remarries, to young bartender Lincoln, (Skarsgård). Margo and Lincoln for most of the movie are basically drop off points for Susanna and Beale who show evermore disrespect towards them and confirm what a couple of horrible people they are. We discover a bond between Maisie and Lincoln. At first I was unsure of the character and what his motives were but you get the sense that from early on he senses what the young girl is missing in her life and falls naturally into their friendship like a big brother (rather than a step father) to Maisie.

Vanderham and Skarsgård play their roles very well and the audience are just glad their portrayal of their characters are like saviours for Maisie. Both actors don’t have a lot of shared on screen time for the duration of the movie but when they do there is a natural bond there that like Maisie have been used by Susanna and Beale and are definitely the flip side of the coin.

I love the way “What Maisie Knew” is shot and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel. It’s always interesting to see a movie from the perspective of the child and reminded me a little bit like “I Am Sam” a lot of the shots are from the view of Maisie and adds to the emotional impact of adults arguing in front of their child.

Overall the movie is very interesting because it follows around what the girl sees and hears, and we see her world through her eyes and her conversations to other adults. Though the storyline is upsetting, it is real and happens everyday in life and there are lessons to be learnt for all adults out there whether you have children or not. Scott McGehee and David Siegel manage to portray the events in the movie without being overly dramatic thanks to a brilliant screenplay by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright. It is emotionally painfully to watch Maisie being passed about like a parcel from one adult to another, yet surprisingly Maisie is still holding up without showing negativity. It shows that her world is innocent and untainted and in her eyes you see hope. “What Maisie Knew” is highly recommendable.

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