The deeply affecting ‘What Maisie Knew’ is a tyke-oriented tearjerker that works on the soul. Filmmakers Scott McGehee and David Siegel present a disturbing drama that routinely captures the major heartache of a vulnerable child caught up in the psychological rigors of her off-the-wall parents’ divorce. There are so many threatening obstacles that can be damaging to the indelible psyche of our impressionable children. Of course, we chalk it up to being part of the growth process for our youngsters. However, ‘What Maisie Knew’ delves into sensitive territory that cannot be easily dismissed. Powerful, engaging and noteworthy, this narrative tells a shocking tale that is so commonplace in everyday life.
Sure, ‘What Maisie Knew’ is packaged in its clichéd examination of broken adulthood and the raw effects it has on childhood sensibilities. The fact that these jeopardised kids — who in essence are more resiliently mature than their seriously flawed caretakers that supposedly provide for them — are instinctively resourceful in such emotional crisis is an all-too familiar premise that has been dramatically captured countless times before. Still, ‘What Maisie Knew’ is uplifting courtesy of the impressive turn by 7 year-old Onata Aprile as the disillusioned private little girl undergoing such a public suffering in her parents’ marital breakdown. Her convincing performance of distress and embedded frustration is what makes the audience know about Maisie and the mental scars that are attached to her.
Based upon the Henry James novel, ‘What Maisie Knew’ is a modern-day account of 6 year-old Maisie (Aprile), a New York-based tot forced to being surrounded by the misguided grown-ups that invade her tranquil world. She has to stomach the erratic antics of her selfish-minded rocker mother, Susanna (Julianne Moore), and her egocentric art dealer father, Beale (Steve Coogan). Both are woefully insufferable and simply can no longer co-exist. Their constant intolerable behaviors and lifestyles (smoking, drinking, cussing, yelling, etc.) are gradually contributing to Maisie’s quieted rage.
In all fairness, both parents have their inflicted disenchantment with their questionable careers. The aging Susanna is struggling to stay prominent in the youthful music business while Beale is a worrywart whose business is suffering financially. When the pair decides to split poor Maisie becomes trapped in a tug-of-war custody battle between her uncouth folks.
The only normalcy that Maisie relies on is her closeness with her dependable nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham). She is the welcomed relief from the bickering Susanna and Beale. Soon, things will change between Maisie and her loving nanny Margo as Daddy Dearest Beale falls head over heels for his daughter’s paid keeper. The awkwardness for Maisie escalates as her beloved Margo goes from playful nanny to disciplined stepmother. Feeling burned by Beale’s commitment to Margo, Susanna falls in the loving arms of good-natured bartender Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard). As Susanna and Beale continue their vindictive vibes, Margo and Lincoln actually act as the stabilising ‘replacement’ parents for Maisie.
One can feel the concrete acrimony in ‘What Maisie Knew’ as this exposition is piercing with outrage and befuddlement. The performers are all impeccable in demonstrating various degrees of strife and sadness to convey with solid believability. Specifically, Aprile’s brave outing as the beleaguered Maisie is inspirational as the swelling of conflict tortures this wide-eyed tiny gal so subtly.
Although one might think that the affluence of Maisie’s sparring loved ones places this kid in privilege and promise, the real richness is the unflinching portrait of a lonely and confused juvenile dealing with the indignities of corruptible role models stuck in a relentless malaise of ruination. When Maisie is wronged and betrayed by her protectors, it is indeed quite telling.
W’hat Maisie Knew’ is what we all should know…the truthfulness of tears and triumph in the eyes of an innocent adolescent looking for a well-deserved childhood comfort zone.
What Maisie Knew (2013)
1 hr. 33 mins.
Starring: Julianne Moore, Onata Aprile, Alexander Skarsgard and Steve Coogan
Directed by: Scott McGehee and David Siegel
MPAA Rating: R
Critic’s rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)