In New York City, a young girl is caught in the middle of her parents’ bitter custody battle.
I remember this movie came to my attention after it got good reviews a few years ago at the Toronto International Film Festival. I had read the Henry James book shortly after finding out about this adaptation (see book review) and thought it was interesting that they had adapted it and set it in the modern day. Took a while but I finally checked it out 🙂
To summarise: beautiful and heartbreaking. This movie adaptation really cuts to the heart of the story in following Maisie as she is shipped back and forth between her parents amidst their nasty divorce and custody battle. It was really sad to watch as this beautiful and obedient and observant girl is used as a pawn in both sides; they love her in their own way but they clearly are too self-involved in themselves, they don’t have her interests at heart, and often times their abandon her to her own devices as they duke it out either directly or indirectly through other people. Like their book counterparts they have no idea how to really parent or nurture their child, often dragging Maisie into their own adult problems which is a sharp contrast to the way her step-parents, Margo and Lincoln, do look out for her and accompany her and see and walk the world through her eyes. The contrasts are so visual: with her biological parents she’s often left alone or they take her to places that make her look so out of place whereas with her step-parents they’d go to parks and they’re always together.
I don’t know where they found Onata Aprile but she was perfect for the role. The camera would focus on her and you can just see the confusion and the sadness that the little girl has. She’s precocious and there are moments where you see the world through her own eyes, that sense of wonder, so when it contrasts with the ugliness of Susanna and Beale’s fight and the custody battle and so forth, it’s just heartbreaking because there’s that seemingly loss of innocence happening there. When Lincoln tells Susanna “You don’t deserve her” it really rings true when you see how her biological parents treat her–advertently or inadvertently–and fail to raise and nurture her.
The rest of the cast was brilliant, from Steve Coogan playing Beale (ugh, despicable as ever, but quite heartbreaking at the end) to Julianne Moore as rock star Susanna. The latter seemed especially fleshed out in her contribution to the matter, I guess since Beale plays the absentee father, as she seems to struggle with the situation she’s in and what she wants to do; she clearly loves her daughter but isn’t capable of really raising her and being there for her as she ought to. You can argue that both Beale and Susanna put their own work and careers first, but c’mon, their daughter is six-years-old and almost always left to her own devices, not ot mention instances of irresponsibility (i.e. Susanna hosting that party the same night as she lets one of Maisie’s friends sleep over). It’s frustrating to watch. Joanna Vanderham and Alexander Skarsgård in turn were great as Maisie’s step-parents; Alexander Skarsgård was especially interesting to watch firstly as it’s one of the few roles it seems where he isn’t menacing or whatever, and secondly because his character, at first looking like a schlob, turns out to be a total sweetheart. Part of the reason why I wanted to watch this movie was because I heard that Alexander Skarsgård and Onata Aprile really bonded (their red carpet pictures and interviews were so friggin’ cute: exhibit A and exhibit B) that yeah, watching this = cuteness overload.
Finally, and I will say this
Also? Love this song after watching this movie:
Overall I really liked What Maisie Knew, definitely stuck close to the source material in highlighting the parental issues and Beale and Susanna’s neglect and failure as parents but the adaptation fit within the modern setting. I have to say I like the movie more than the book simply because of the ending…well, that and I didn’t have to suffer through Henry James’ plodding prose. The cast was brilliant, hands down. All in all, definitely worth checking out 🙂