What Maisie Knew

Film, Drama
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What Maisie Knew

Philip Larkin boiled down libraries’ worth of psychology books and hundreds of years of literature into one, single, tweet-sized nugget: ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad.’ In ‘What Maisie Knew’, seven-year-old Maisie’s parents are doing their best to live up to that line by selfishly using their daughter as a weapon in their divorce.

Usually a film about an adorable seven-year-old with a wobbly lower lip at the centre of a custody battle would have me reaching for a kitten to kick. But ‘What Maisie Knew’ is neither depressing nor touchy-feely. This tense New York drama from the co-directors of ‘Bee Season’ and ‘The Deep End’ is sensitive and almost unwatchably perceptive about dysfunctional families – and it’s acted with knife-sharp precision.

It’s a contemporary adaptation of a novel written 115 years ago by Henry James – after a friend told him about the case of a divorcing couple granted joint custody of their child. Scandalous in 1897; bit more common in 2013. In the film, Maisie is shuttled between parents every ten days. Steve Coogan’s gift for playing a smug asshole comes into its own as her dad, Beale, a manipulative, up-himself English art dealer glued to his BlackBerry. Julianne Moore is fierce as Maisie’s fading rock star mum, Susanna (hair dyed black, like Alison Mosshart from The Kills). She’s not a monster, just horribly selfish.

Giving Coogan and Moore a run for their money in the acting stakes is Onata Aprile as Maisie, just six when she made the film. She doesn’t do cute-kid acting. She just seems to be Maisie – and the directors keep the camera at her level. We see what she sees, hear what she hears. (‘You’re a fucking headcase.’ ‘Fuck you!’)

Beale and Susanna fight in court for sole custody of their daughter. Later, they realise they can inflict more damage by dumping Maisie on each other and disappearing for weeks. Beale marries Maisie’s nanny. Susanna hooks up with a scorching-hot slacker barman, played by Alexander Skarsgård. An army of lady-fans will swoon at his stepdad-in-shining-armour routine. A touching, heartbreaking film.

By: Cath Clarke


Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday August 23 2013
Duration: 99 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Cast: Alexander Skarsgard
Julianne Moore
Steve Coogan
Onata Aprile

Average User Rating

3 / 5

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Late, as always, I watched "What Maise Knew" on video the other day. What is there to say? Charming? Well acted? Maise-centred photography? Four stars? Yes, all of that but .....? I fully expected to hate Maise. I've squirmed my way through too many mawkish American films about children to come easily to another one. Usually, like watching Internet clips of puppies or kittens looking cute, we sign out on kid films with that sickly sweet taste of wholesome old fashioned American family values. A large helping of Mom's Apple Pie with a twist of Father Knows a Best! But this Maise knew better and the film is real match for Henry James' novel. By now most normal people will have seen "What Maise Knew" but for those laggards, like myself, take heart and enjoy Maise either now or a she was a hundred years ago.

J.B., Glad someone remembers `Suture`, a film i caught once on BBC2 late night TV many years ago. The next film by these two `The Deep End` didn`t quite live up to there promise. Not sure if this is worth a trip to the cinema, although i`m sure its good.

Being a huge fan of the directors' debut 'SUTURE' many years ago I was intriuged by this film so went to see it. It's a real gem. What sets this apart and elevates it from the norm are the performances. Alexander Skarsgård shines as does Coogan in one of the scenes which presents us with a side of him that is rarely seen in many of his films. It's not comfortable viewing - we become so instilled in Maisie's character that we're almost fearing the worst in some scenes. Most films that tackle this subject matter either bore or become too twee. What Maisie Knew is neither - it's a strong character driven film that presents us with a child's perspective on the mess of the adult world. Very good and definitely worth a watch.