A bitter custody battle of two self obsessed parents is shown through the eyes of the little girl who is the prize.
Writers: Nancy Doyne (screenplay), Carroll Cartwright (screenplay), Henry James (Novel)
Directors: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Stars: Onata Aprile, Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgård
Run time/Rating: 99 Minutes/ R
Popcorn Score: Large Popcorn
Obviously not all movies are meant to be happy, entertaining or even enjoyable. Some are created as works of art and to prove a point or show a weakness in humanity, a fault that particular people share or sometimes the resilience that people, even the littlest ones can have. What Maisie Knew, which is a modern day adaptation of a 1987 Henry James book has been released during the summer and shares many theaters with Iron Man 3 and other blockbuster movies but is not a popcorn flick. This movie that is better than most makes you feel sick, angry, excited and pity. It is one of the best movies I’ve seen all year.
Maisie is a 6 or so year old girl with a mother and father fighting for her as a prize through a terrible custody battle. Her Mother Susana (Juliane Moore) plays an aging rock star. We learn through loud arguments with her ex-husband Beale (Steve Coogan) that she has always put herself in front of everyone else in her life. She has clearly still not grown up and living the rock n roll lifestyle into her 50’s. For the father’s part, Coogan plays a work obsessed art collector. If he isn’t on his phone, he is flying last minute to Italy or other parts of the world for business.
The fighting and hatred for each other is constant and not withheld from Masie. Fortunately, Maisie does have a caretaker in Margot (Joanna Vanderham) who loves and cares about her. This relationship becomes muddled quickly when Beale marries her in order to create a more secure home in eyes of the court. In response to that Susan marries a young bartender so that Maisie can have a “father” when she stays with her mother. This bartender played by Alexander Skarsgård had only been seen once before at a smoke-filled house party when he is reintroduced as Maisie’s new stepfather. In the end, his caring although timid personality forms a stronger and truer bond than Maisie ever had with either of her parents.
All performances are superb. Julianne More delivers making you dislike her as much as the character is dislikable. The unfortunately underrated Steve Coogan is wonderful as always in a mostly serious role, although he does lighten the mood from time to time as the overwhelmed but neglectful father. Onata Aprile is brilliant in showing the innocent emotion that a young girl would feel in such hostile situations. If the academy is in the mood to nominate another young actress for an Oscar, this understated performance would merit it.
The film provides Maisies perspective on everything and is often shot from her point of view as she is tossed back and forth via New York city taxi rides from one parents apartment to the next. Accompanied by simple childlike music throughout this brilliant story lets you experience what Maisie is living through and in turn feel what she feels and know what she knows.