What Maisie Knew
4.5/5 MUST must see SEE
dir Scott McGehee, David Siegel
scr Nancy Doyne, Carroll Cartwright
prd Daniel Crown, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, William Teitler, Charles Weinstock
with Onata Aprile, Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgard, Joanna Vanderham, Steve Coogan, Sadie Rae, Jesse Stone Spadaccini, Diana Garcia Soto, Amelia Campbell, Maddie Corman, Paddy Croft, James Colby
release US 3.May.13, UK 23.Aug.13
12/US 1h33
What Maisie Knew
Port in the storm: Aprile and Skarsgard

moore vanderham coogan
edinburgh film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
What Maisie Knew Based on an 1897 novel by Henry James, this film knowingly slices through a collapsed marriage through the eyes of the young daughter caught in the middle. It's strikingly well-written, directed and acted, with witty surfaces and jaggedly bitter undercurrents.

Rock star Susanna (Moore) and businessman Beale (Coogan) aren't breaking up quietly: loud arguments echo around their New York flat, where 6-year-old daughter Maisie (Aprile) watches with a mixture of hope and fear. She turns to her nanny Margo (Vanderham) for stability, and is a bit shaken when, after her parents separate, Margo turns up living with her father. As Susanna and Beale battle for custody, Maisie is shuttled back and forth, always taking second place to their work. Then Susanna marries nice-guy barman Lincoln (Skarsgard), who becomes Maisie's closest ally.

Directors McGehee and Siegel shoot this very cleverly, always catching events from Maisie's perspective, which means we might not be able to hear the screaming matches in the next room. And we are never quite ready for such shocking displays of callous irresponsibility from Susanna and Beale. Like Maisie, we look around for a port in the storm, and sometimes that's even scarier. Aprile is revelatory in the role, appearing in virtually every scene and letting us see into her soul. We are right with her in each moment.

So like her, we cling to Moore's spiky but magnetic Susanna when she's having a period of maternalistic compassion in between her artistic excesses. And we yearn for Coogan's blustery Beale to be playful rather than dismissive. But stability and respect are only found with Margo and Lincoln, played with complexity by Vanderham and Skarsgard so that we like them perhaps a bit too much and understand it when they snap against the responsibility that's thoughtlessly dumped on them.

All of this bracingly reveals how adult selfishness affects children every day. Maisie seems like an unusually perceptive and intelligent child, but the fact is that most kids know what's going on around them even as adults convince themselves that they don't. And the most telling thing about the film is the way it continually finds little-girl happiness anywhere it exists and wallows in it. Because the next moment might be a nightmare.

cert 15 themes, language 31.Jul.13

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall