Director: Scott McGehee, David Seigel
You probably haven’t heard much about What Maisie Knew. Which is a shame because it’s a real gem. It’s a lovely film which has thrown me and punched my cynical side in the balls. So I’m going to try something new – I believe you Earth people call it ‘sincerity’.
WMK is about a little girl called Maisie who’s parents are divorcing. If you’re thinking ‘Kramer vs Kramer’ then you wouldn’t be far off but this movie has a subtle difference – Maisie’s folks are self-absorbed assholes who deep down love her but put their own problems first. It’s based on the Henry James novel of the same name but updated to present day New York.
The plot revolves around Maisie and her relationship with the people in her life. The main influences on her are her rockstar mother (Julianne Moore), her business man father (Steve Coogan), her nanny (Joanna Vanderham), and her mother’s boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgard).
You might think ‘Maisie has super rich parents and therefore my sympathy is limited’ but here we see a little girl who doesn’t fully understand what’s going wrong and has never experienced a stable life. The movie starts with a common scenario for Maisie, her parents having a blazing row while she plays in her room. It’s heartbreaking in a way. From here we begin to see a chance at happiness through a couple of strangers.
What I loved about WMK is that when I say the film revolves around Maisie I mean that she is in literally every scene. We only see what she sees so it feels like we’re watching her life from over her shoulder meaning that when she’s sad, we’re sad and when there is a glimmer of hope for her we, the audience, want to reach out and grab it.
The film is full of phenomenal performances notably Julianne Moore who’s character we should hate but though her portrayal we sympathise with a woman who is damaged (Moore says she based her performance on Courtney Love). Coogan gives good slimy bastard as usual but again, he seems real. The heart of the movie though is little Maisie played beautifully by Onata Aprile. By the end of the movie you want to take her home and look after her. Its rare that a child actor doesn’t annoy me so this is a triumph in itself.
Then there’s Alexander Skarsgard who seems to be appearing in every movie lately but here you can see why. He creates a realistic, flawed character who isn’t the smartest but deep down is a great person. Finally the film introduces Joanna Vanderham as my future wife the nanny. She plays her beautifully in a caring understated way subverting the ‘other woman’ trope and is someone to watch out for in the future.
While not a perfect film or anything groundbreaking it’s a touching piece with brilliant acting, a moving story, and a general feeling that no matter how bad things get, there are good people out there who can change everything. In the words of Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge – ‘Lovely stuff’.
What Maisie Knew opens in the UK on August 23rd. Also look out for What Mikey Knew, an experimental 5 minutes of a blank screen*
*This may be a lie