What Maisie Knew is a horrible title for a movie about families and what, ultimately, a family actually is.
Going into the film, I had no idea what the film was about but going from the title, I expected something about a murder and how a child witnessed it.
(Yes, I know this is a modern re-telling of a Henry James story. It’s still a horrible title).
Boy was I wrong but in a pleasantly surprised way. And that’s thanks to an incredible performance by Onata Aprile as Maisie.
Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, Maisie (Aprile) is the child of two of the most self-centered people in the world. Played by Steve Coogan and Julianne Moore, they definitely win the prize for ‘Year’s Worst Parents.’ In a constant state or arguments, Moore’s aging rock star of a mom Susanna, finally decides enough is enough, and kicks him out. This sets off a custody battle where, eventually, Coogan’s Beale wins, taking with him Maisie and the family nanny, Margo (Joanna Vanderham).
Both parents quickly marry; Beale woos the nanny with travel and her love of Maisie and Susanna to a local bartender, Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard). Susanna’s reasoning for the quickie marriage? “I married him for you,” she tells Maisie. So he can watch her during the day. Which is a perfect reason to get married.
The two become the definition of absentee parents, leaving the job of raising poor Maisie to Morgan and Lincoln. They spend so much time together that Maisie begins getting attached to Lincoln, which makes Susanna jealous but really, what does she expect? She’s treated like a yo-yo and it’s almost heartbreaking. But here is Lincoln, this big, goofy lug of a guy taking time to bond with her and show her some kind of parental love. He’s a damn saint!
Eventually, Morgan and Lincoln begin spending more and more time together and Maisie begins to realize what a family, a true family, is all about.
I love how Skarsgard is changing it up and leaving his True Blood character behind in the films he does on hiatus. I was afraid when he did Battleship that he had fallen in that trap of doing crap movies but with his turns in the recent Disconnect, The East and now this, that fear is wiped away. He’s so good here. When we first meet him, he’s clearly on something (booze, weed?) and there’s no way you’d ever think he’d become some sort of father figure to a child. He sports a big goofy smile, ratty t-shirts but eventually, he morphs into someone you could absolutely trust.
As Morgan, Vanderham goes from naive nanny to responsible adult almost overnight. You feel sorry for the way Coogan’s Beale treated (used) her and in one scene she has a moment where you think she might go over the edge and turn into a ‘me, me, me-er’. It’s all frustration and angst but one look from Maisie and she’s back from the brink.
Coogan and Moore are so perfect that you might actually hate them for the way they treat this almost perfect little girl.
That brings me to Aprile. Holy crap where did they find her? She’s wonderful and gives an incredible performance. She’s in every scene and not once does her work seem like a “performance.” I loved everything about her and hopefully she’ll get the praise she deserves.
Is Maisie happy in the end? That would be ruining the story but I will say that the final shot of her is enough to make your eyes well up… And I mean that in the best possible way.