What Maisie Knew

2012

Drama

165
Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 87%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 80%
IMDb Rating 7.5

Synopsis


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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Red-Barracuda 7 / 10

One of the very best child acting performances...

It always amazes me when I see a really impressive child acting performance. This is one of an impressive collective of films where a young performer has been quite outstanding. But there is something of an important difference between this one and most others. While the likes of Tatum O'Neal (Paper Moon), Ivana Baquero (Pan's Labyrinth) or Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) were all brilliant, none of them were as young as Onata Aprile. When you consider that at her age she simply will be incapable of understanding all the nuances of the screenplay, it makes it all the more outstanding just how good she is. She doesn't really say a whole lot but her looks convey massive amounts of meaning. Her performance is so natural that it reminds me of kid's drawings – so unaffected, unpretentious and instinctive that adults can never faithfully replicate them. The acting by the entire cast here is top calibre but at times like this you cannot compete and Onata Aprile easily steals the show.

It's quite a disturbing story really. Maisie is a neglected child and it's not very pleasant seeing her be passed around from pillar to post being essentially disregarded. The view the film adopts is a child's one. We see Maisie peeking round corners, in the periphery watching, seeing but never fully comprehending but understanding more than she is given credit for. She seems to know more about right and wrong than her parents do, for example. They are in worlds of their own, ignoring their little girl in order to play out their own self-obsessed games. Steve Coogan and Julianne Moore are very good in these unsympathetic roles in which they make you understand why they are like the way they are without making us actually sympathise with them.

The film works so well because it's given such an unsentimental treatment. The story unfolds subtly and believably and it avoids saccharine. While Maisie's parents are the bad guys of the piece they're not really villains as such, just extremely poor parents and very selfish people generally. As it turns out, it's the parent's new partners who are left increasingly in charge of the little girl and they are slowly drawn towards each other too. Collectively they make for an actual workable and loving family unit. Both Alexander Skarsgard and Joanna Vanderham are also great as these much more sympathetic adults. Events ultimately progress to an ending that was upbeat without sacrificing believability; it's simultaneously inconclusive yet hopeful. I suppose one of the messages of What Maisie Knew is that what is important is what is best for the child, not what is convenient for blood parents.

Reviewed by David Ferguson (fergusontx@gmail.com) 7 / 10

She knows plenty

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.

Reviewed by Monica Story 10 / 10

A heartbreaking gem of a movie. Loved it.

This movie is a little gem. I read the New York Times review that said it was "Brilliant" or whatever, and I don't know if I'd go that far, but it's definitely the best movie about divorce and child custody I've ever seen, and it's nothing like Kramer vs. Kramer. It's actually really sweet and real feeling, mostly because you really identify with the little girl Maisie. All the adult actors are great, and sometimes funny (Steve Coogan), but I especially loved Alexander Skarsgard. He seems like a loser when you first see him, but he ends up being super loving, and his scenes with Maisie are really fun to watch. Haters are going to hate, but I think anyone would relate to this film about parents, kids, and finding people to love.

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