Movie Review - What Maisie Knew

Julianne Moore (left), Onata April (center)
and Alexander Skarsgard in "What Maisie Knew"
This film is this generation's Kramer Vs. Kramer but with a story that takes a surprising and heartbreaking turn, an even more heartbreaking turn than that 1979 Oscar-winning Best Picture about a custody battle in New York. This film is also about a custody battle, but one centering on a 6-year-old girl named Maisie. At the same time, it's also about Maisie getting to know and coming to love her step-parents and them getting to know and coming to love Maisie in return. The trick from directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel is telling the entire narrative entirely from Maisie's point-of-view.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Henry James, Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights and The Hours) is an aging rock star named Susanna. She's the mother of Maisie. She was married to a British art dealer named Beale, played by Steve Coogan (24 Hour Party People and Happy Endings). They're divorced and in a custody fight. To help their cases, both get married to two people whom they don't necessarily love but who are very convenient to creating a quick family to look good in front of the court.

Alexander Skarsgard (Straw Dogs and Melancholia) co-stars as Lincoln, a bartender at a fancy, Manhattan restaurant who at once was a groupie to Susanna but who becomes her makeshift husband. Joanna Vanderham plays Margo, the Scottish nanny who has known Maisie and cared for her longer. Yet, it's still rather jarring or disconcerting for Maisie when Margo is all-of-a-sudden living at her father's house and then Maisie is flower girl at their wedding.

Maisie is then whisked back-and-forth. She bounces from staying with her mom in her house to staying with her father in his. As the movie goes along, a change starts to occur that I didn't expect, having not read the book. It makes total sense when the change happens. It's surprising but not really. It's lovely but also sad, and it's all centered around this little girl.

Onata Aprile who plays Maisie is just as amazing in her performance of this character as Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Aprile joins a growing list of recent child actors who have been stunning from Elle Fanning to Tye Sheridan to Michael Rainey Jr to Abigail Breslin. What's incredible is how McGehee and Siegel are able to tell this story through Aprile's eyes, and how the adult actors are all stronger as a result. All of them have to act opposite this little girl and the way that the little girl absorbs and understands them is the power of this film, one of the best films of the year.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for some language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 38 mins.


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