For Reel

What Maisie Knew (2012)
March 6, 2014, 3:43 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Director(s): Scott McGehee & David Siegel
4.5 Stars
What Maisie KnewA contemporary adaptation of Henry James’ scandalous 1897 novel about the divorce of two self-absorbed people and the effect it has on their daughter, What Maisie Knew is a sharp, understated melodrama that is seen entirely through the eyes of the titular child. As Maisie, the terrific Onata Aprile is either in frame or is understood to be the witness of all of the events that unfold. What comes as a surprise is how quiet and passive an observer she is–this isn’t the typical precocious, smart-mouthed child that one might expect of this kind of fare, rather Maisie is a bystander who is neither aloof nor divinely enlightened. She is eager, curious, and more than anything cautious–even she, in her innocence, seems fully aware of what a train wreck her mother (Julianne Moore) is. Alexander Skarsgård, who until now has been easy to overlook, is remarkable as the bartender that Moore marries in a pathetic attempt to get back at her remarried husband (Steve Coogan). He becomes the patriarch of the ideal family, a man clearly better suited to fatherhood than the pompous Coogan. In addition to being the moral center, he balances his natural warmth with a certain childish naiveté that makes him equally effective as a father figure and as a playmate. His chemistry with Aprile is a joy to behold–when Maisie confesses that she loves him, the spark in Aprile’s eyes would suggest that the young girl does, in fact, love her costar.

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