What Maisie Knew




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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Michael_Elliott 5 / 10

Unique Gem With Some of the Best Performances of the Year

What Maisie Knew (2012)

*** 1/2 (out of 4)

Excellent updating of the Henry James story about a divorcing couple (Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan) and the impact that their behavior has on their young daughter Maisie (Onata Aprile) as well as the new step parents (Alexander Skarsgard, Joanna Vanderham). WHAT MAISIE KNEW isn't going to appeal to a mass audience but it's certainly a terrific little gem from directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel. What I enjoyed the most was the unique way it told the story. We never get the "full" story of everything going on but instead we get the bits and pieces that a child would remember about something. Instead of finding out why a parent leaves her at school, we just see how the child remembers being left alone. Instead of knowing what the parents are fighting about, we see how it impacts the child and her memories of it. This is a very unique way to tell the story and it gives a touch of freshness to a storyline (divorce) that we've seen before. It also doesn't hurt that the film doesn't shy away from some rather ugly behavior from the parents and especially the Moore character. To say she's an unworthy mother would be an understatement but I appreciate the film playing things straight and not ever trying to make something cute. It also doesn't hurt that we get some of the best performances that you're going to see all year with Moore doing an excellent job in her role as the busy mother who doesn't have enough time for her daughter. This is a rather ugly role so it was brave for the actress to take it on. The same with Coogan who also plays a jerk and delivers with some strong work. Both Skarsgard and Vanderham really steal the film in the roles of the step parents who find themselves being forced to deal with something they never expected. Both of them should be remembered at Oscar time but we'll see how that goes. The same is true for Aprile who doesn't get too much dialogue but we constantly see her reactions to the things going on around here. This is such an excellent and quiet performance and something you'd see in a silent movie. WHAT MAISIE KNEW is about a pretty ugly subject matter but it's a fascinating look at it for those who enjoy great performances and a unique story.

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.

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.

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