What Maisie Knew (2012) Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel. With Onata Aprile, Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgard, Joanna Vanderham.
Adapted and updated from the Henry James novel of the same name, What Maise Knew is a story told from the perspective of a six-year-old girl, who as a result of her parent’s divorce, is forced to live an unstable life.
Made by the co-directing team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel, there’s a distinctly original flavour to the film, as well as a sense of admiration at not only their attempt to pull off, what might look on paper an awkward story to navigate, but also their achievement of making it a resonant and powerful piece of cinema.
Circling Maisie’s world are four central characters played by Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan (her natural mother and father) and Alexander Skarsgard and Joanna Vanderham (her step-parents, of sorts). The former are reprehensible people, clearly unfit to look after a dog, which is exactly how they treat their daughter. The latter, a pair of guardian angels who bring love and security to Maisie’s world.
Taking the title role of Maisie is the adorable Onata Aprile, who not only manages to get through all her scenes – that isn’t meant to sound patronising, she doesn’t look a day older than 5 – but does so in a way that utterly convinces the audience of the confusion that a child of such a young age might go through under such strain. Maisie isn’t a tearful child, though, it’s almost as if she has taken on a certain amount of numbness to the crazy goings on of her parents and the sheer lack of emotional consistency that pervades her life.
At times, it’s varyingly beautiful and heartbreaking to watch. With romance, explosive arguments, emotional breakdowns, blind neglect, bitterness, love, jealousy and every other complicated emotion/situation you can think of, its a safe bet Maisie will grow up with a few emotional problems of her own. It is, however, a poignant and important look at the huge responsibility of being a parent. 4/5