There are plenty of films out there that deal with relationships breaking up and divorces, but there are not many that get told from a child’s perspective or at least what she witnesses. What Maisie Knew is a film about the turmoil of not having one dependable person in a child’s life to take care of her.
Maisie (Onata Aprile) is a wide-eyed young girl who lives with her parents in New York City. Mom is Susanna (Julianne Moore) who is a rock singer and dad is Beale (Steve Coogan) who is an art dealer. Both parents are kind of absentee parents, so Maisie relies most on her nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham). Things take a turn for the worse with Susanna and Beale who end up getting divorced and fighting over who gets Maisie in court. Enter Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard), a tall bartender who Susanna marries more for Maisie than out of love or any attachment to Lincoln. This film is a shining example of how screwed up parents can be and how they forget that their actions will affect their child.
Maisie is not a rebellious, rotten child. She is very happy-go-lucky which makes the situation she is in even more appalling. She is a “go with the flow” child, even in the midst of being abandoned and tossed around by her own parents. Onata Aprile plays Maisie well, using her large, beautiful eyes to take in what is happening to her. She interacts well with the other actors. She displays fragility underneath the surface, but she exudes happiness at the right moments. This is a complicated situation that would be hard for such a young actress to comprehend. How young actors are able to understand some of the things going on in scenes is a talent that not many have. Perhaps Aprile did not understand it all, but she convincingly portrayed Maisie as the story needed her to.
Julianne Moore does not always get to portray a “bad” character, but in this film, she takes the cake. Susanna is a rocker chick past her prime, but still trying to hold on to her dwindling popularity and still be relevant. She is oblivious to her child most of the time, either letting Maisie fend for herself or relying on the nanny to take care of her. The most curious thing about her is that she demands that Maisie love her the most and quickly becomes mad and jealous if anyone else makes Maisie happier. Things become more dire when Susanna and Beale separate and a vicious custody battle ensues. Susanna holds on to Maisie just to piss off her ex, continuing to neglect her child. There is not a character that I have disliked more in a film and could compare her to Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest but with less physical abuse and hangers.
Susanna’s ex, Beale, is not much better. The audience hopes that maybe Beale will be the better parent, but he quickly puts business as number one in his life after marrying the nanny. He disappears for long periods of time and eventually just removes himself completely from the picture. Steve Coogan is usually known for his comedic roles, gives himself over to being that father that no one ends up liking
The shining beacons of life are Lincoln and Margo. Although not her parents, they both care for Maisie. First, out of obligation, whether it is by marriage or a job, but they both come to care for Maisie. This is not a typical role for Alexander Skarsgard. He plays a very lovable, kind Lincoln who probably did not know what he was getting into when he married Susanna. Skarsgard holds himself differently in this role. He is always kind of hunched over, playing second to Susanna. He is quiet, yet kind. You have faith in him, although it falters a little toward the end of the film. Sorry ladies, Skarsgard has not shirtless scenes.
What Maisie Knew is not a happy-go-lucky film. It basically confirms the worst about parents and how some really continue to put themselves first at the detriment of their own children. You will despise Susanna and Beale by the end. However, there are good people in this world, and in this case, they do not have to be related to a child to do what is right. The film does not have a great ending, leaving the audience with no closure, just a hope that things work out for Maisie. This is a heavy film with great performances, but is not a film for everyone due to the circumstances revolving around young Maisie’s life. If you are in a “I hate people” mood, it would be best to go and see Iron Man 3 instead.
I give What Maisie Knew 3.5 out 5.
by Sarah Ksiazek