What Maisie Knew is a contemporary version of the Henry James novella by the same name. Taking place in modern day New York City, the story revolves around precocious 7-year-old Maisie (Onata Aprile) who’s caught in the middle of a bitter custody battle between her mother Susanna (Julianne Moore), an aging and slightly nutty rock star, and her father Beale (Steve Coogan), an art dealer who isn’t all that interested in being a parent. As her Mom and Dad take on new partners (Alexander Skarsgard and Joanna Venderham respectively) and carry on with their self-involved lives, Maisie is shuttled around from house to house and from caregiver to caregiver, all the while maintaining an oddly mature acceptance of her situation and the oddball family she’s been saddled with.
As sad as a film about an essentially neglected child sounds, What Maisie Knew isn’t a heartbreaking story at all. Anchored by newcomer Onata Aprile, who plays Maisie as a wizened soul (but not in that annoying Hollywood actor kid way) with a keen understanding of just how screwed up all of the adults in her life are. Rather than spiral into horrible behaviour to get attention from her parents, Maisie tries to make the best of the cards she’s dealt, forming bonds with the adults in her life when she can and taking every little joy that’s thrown her way to its full advantage. Sure, she may be wracking up the time on a therapist’s couch later on in life but for now, she’s content to watch a bug on her windowsill when her parents are screaming at one another, or to hang out at the bar drinking Shirley Temples all night after her Mom has dumped her with her bartender husband. Screenwriters Scott McGehee and David Siegel smartly keep us with Maisie for the entire film, reminding us that although all of these weighty adult issues are ultimately changing her life in a fairly significant way, they’re kind of insignificant to a 7-year-old in the moment that they’re happening. That’s a pretty cool way to look at an otherwise fairly traditional divorce story.
Is What Maisie Knew Essential TIFF Viewing?
It’s one of the better and more surprising films still left to screen at TIFF 2012. If you’re fan of keenly observed family drama then this is definitely worth waiting in the rush line for. Also, Alexander Skarsgard is always pleasant to look at, regardless of the circumstances.
What Maisie Knew Screening Times
- Sunday, September 16, 2012 at 3:30pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox
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