Whether people agree or disagree with my opinions on any movie that I end up seeing, I always try to be honest. I figure that if I’m 100% honest with myself then that should come across in every review. I HOPE that this means whenever people disagree strongly with me, we can at least agree to disagree. Of course, things don’t always work out that way, but I can still live in hope.
Why am I starting yet another review with yet another seemingly unrelated ramble? Well, when I decided upon my rating for What Maisie Knew I initially went quite a bit lower. It would have been marked as a below-average movie. It’s actually a very good movie, I was initially put off because so much of it felt far too close to a reality that I, and many others, have gone through at some point. Let’s not start a pity party or anything, but this film really gets a lot right when it comes to showing the selfishness of parents who need to either a) hang on to their children even if they may not be the best thing for them and/or b) use their children for all kinds of selfish reasons.
The premise of the film is simple. Maisie (Onata Aprile) is stuck in the middle as her parents (Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan) continually antagonise each other while sharing custody. Moore is a bit of a rock star, though it seems that her peak was a few years ago, while Coogan is the type of businessman who sometimes needs to jet off for days at a time. Thankfully, two other people – Lincoln, played by Alexander Skarsgard, and Margo, played by Joanna Vanderham – also feature in her life, even if they are also caught up in the whole horrible situation by being involved, separately, with Maisie’s mother and father.
Based on a novel by Henry James, the script by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright updates everything perfectly. Unfortunately, I have not read the source material, but there’s nothing here that feels slightly out of kilter with the modern age. The direction by Scott McGehee and David Siegel seems fine. Some scenes twist abruptly or run on slightly too long, but it all feels calculated to create an emotional response and a feeling of unpredictability, a feeling of things being able to turn on a dime in any split second. A feeling much like the wariness that grows in the central character.
Speaking of the central character, Onata Aprile gives a very good performance in the role. She gets to act older than her young years sometimes, but is often just a level-headed child who wants some stability and warmth back in her life instead of the atmosphere that has developed around her. Coogan is fine, easily providing another performance showing someone a bit selfish and often quite cool. Moore gets the more difficult role, and often goes a bit overboard, but her character is the one that stirs up the strongest feelings so it’s hard to separate the performance from the reactions I had. Vanderham and Skarsgard are both absolutely wonderful as the two main characters who aren’t parents, but who just instinctively do a better job than the actual parents with a child that they’re not using for their own gain.
What Maisie Knew may infuriate you at times, it may make you want to reach into the screen and throttle one or two of the main characters. Sadly, it may do those things because it’s horribly on the nose when it comes to showing what can happen to the children of parents who aren’t in the right headspace to remember how to BE a parent.
DIRECTOR: SCOTT MCGEHEE, DAVID SIEGEL
WRITER: NANCY DOYNE, CARROLL CARTWRIGHT (BASED ON THE NOVEL BY HENRY JAMES)
STARS: JULIANNE MOORE, STEVE COOGAN, ONATA APRILE, JOANNA VANDERHAM, ALEXANDER SKARSGARD
RUNTIME: 93 MINS APPROX