What Maisie Knew is a gimmick and also kind of a wonder: a story of the dissolution of a relationship told entirely through the eyes of the couple’s six year-old daughter. Maisie (played by a remarkable Onata Aprile) is in every single scene, absorbing and reflecting the selfishness and cruelty of her parents, and the remarkable thing about the film is how entirely non-precocious she is. Movie kids, particularly protagonists, tend to be unnaturally ultra-expressive and mature beyond their years — stand-ins for the adults watching the film. Maisie is quiet and passive, accustomed to doing what she’s told, and her fear and sadness are barely detectable through a veneer of compliant resignation. It’s an almost uncomfortably plausible depiction of the effects of bad parenting on a fragile psyche.
I do wish the film didn’t turn into a blatant horror show in the last act, followed by an unlikely bit of wish fulfillment. But even though the film sends them off the child-abuse deep end in the home stretch, Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan do impressive, precise work as bad parents who are bad for very different reasons. And Alexander Sarsgaard gives one of my favorite performances of the year as the bartender whom Maisie’s mom marries as revenge on her ex: it takes Sarsgaard roughly 60 seconds to convey exactly the kind of person this lanky, gentle, slightly-oafish character is. This is the fifth film from long-time collaborators David Siegel and Scott McGehee (The Deep End, Bee Season, Uncertainty), and it’s typically understated, unique and worthwhile.
— Eugene Novikov
|Starring:||Joanna Vanderham, Onata Aprile, Alexander Sarsgaard, Steve Coogan, Julianne Moore|
|Directed by:||Scott McGehee, David Siegel|
|Screenwriters:||Nancy Doyne, Carroll Cartwright|