MRR Review: "What Maisie Knew"


MRR Review: "What Maisie Knew"

-- Rating: R
Length: 99 minutes
Release Date: May 3, 2013
Directed by: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Genre: Drama

Adapted from a short novel by Henry James, "What Maisie Knew" is a story about divorce and a child lost in a bitter custody battle. Although it made its international debut in 2012 at the Toronto International Film Festival, it was not released in the United States until the spring of 2013.

The story takes place in New York City, where Susanna (Julianne Moore), a once-famous rock star, and Beale (Steve Coogan), a narcissistic art dealer, are both in the throes of a midlife crisis and eventually divorce so they can pursue other romantic interests. Their seven-year-old daughter, Maisie (Onata Aprile), winds up splitting her time between both parents.

The divorce devolved into a full-fledged and very bitter custody battle over Maisie, with each parent determined to win the war. To give himself an air of legitimacy in front of the court, Beale marries Margo (Joanna Vanderham), Maisie's nanny. Not to be outdone, Susanna quickly marries a local bartender, Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård), who has befriended her despite his much younger age.

Both Margo and Lincoln see things as they really are: two selfish parents using their child as a pawn in their quest to defeat each other. As they get to know Maisie, they begin to sympathize with her, realizing that no child should be put in the position she is in.

Despite her young age, Maisie is a very keen observer and a mature thinker, and even she can see how damaged and selfish her own parents are. As both of her parents' new relationships begin to disintegrate, Maisie looks at Margo and Lincoln in a whole new light, wondering if she can build a brand new family with them to replace the one she has lost. The three soon realize that if they forge ahead with the pseudo-family idea, they will be subject to what started the whole mess in the first place-the wrath of Maisie's parents.

Although Henry James first wrote the story in 1897, screenwriters Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright did a fabulous job of adapting and updating this story for modern times. While this type of event happening during Henry James' time was almost unheard of, the writers managed to capture the interest and hearts of the audience despite this now being an all-too-common occurrence.

Although it is too soon to tell whether she will win any awards for her performance, Onata Aprile certainly deserves one. She played the role without pretention, sentimentality, or precociousness, instead focusing on studying the ridiculousness of the adults around her. Aprile's acting career up until now has been short, beginning with her debut appearance in 2010 on an episode of "Law and Order: SVU." She has also played roles in several shorts and portrayed Wren in the 2012 film "The History of Future Folk" and Linda in "Yellow." It is almost certain that Aprile will have a long acting career, but only time will tell.

Julianna Moore nailed the part of Susanna, playing perfectly off her ex-husband, Beale. Moore is the most successful actor in the film, with a career that began in 1984 with appearances on many popular television shows, including "The Edge of Night" and "B.L. Stryker." She made her big-screen debut in 1990 in "Tales from the Darkside: The Movie," and quickly followed that up with a role in the 1992 hit "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle." Moore has also had lead or supporting roles in other hit films, including "The Fugitive," "Nine Months," "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," "Psycho," and "Hannibal."

Moore has garnered a full 55 award wins and 69 nominations. Although she has yet to win an Oscar, she received nominations on four separate occasions for her roles in "Boogie Nights" in 1997, "The End of the Affair" in 1999, and "The Hours," and "Far from Heaven" in 2002.

Steve Coogan was perfectly cast in the part of Beale. Born in the U.K., he began his acting career back in 1989 with parts on several television series, including "Harry," "Spitting Image," and "The Day Today." Although he did some work on the big screen, he was mainly a television actor until his breakout role in the 2004 hit "Around the World in 80 Days." He went on to play Ambassador Mercy in "Marie Antoinette," Octavius in "Night at the Museum," and Alan Partridge in "Darkwood Manor." In 2010, he won a BAFTA award for Best Male Performance in a Comedy Role for "The Trip," and he has walked away with six additional wins and 13 nominations.

Along with Onata Aprile, Joanna Vanderham and Alexander Skarsgård are what give this movie a depth of character and a reflection of the inherent goodness in people. This film will surely tug at your heartstrings.

Rated: 3.5 out of 5