What Maisie Knew is a complicated story, and yet it’s also very simple. It’s about a six-year-old girl caught up in the middle of four adults who don’t really know how to take care of her. It’s about perceptions, details, love, responsibility, and fear.
I haven’t read the Henry James novel of the same name that the movie is based on (however I did order the free kindle version today), so I can’t speak to it’s faithfulness to the book. I can say that something about this movie feels true to me. I don’t know what it’s like to be a child of divorced parents, or to grow up in Manhattan (with a wardrobe to rival Suri Cruise), but I was once a six-year-old girl, and often don’t feel like my perspective is much different.
The movie follows Maisie’s perspective as she goes through her days: school, meals, homework, falling asleep in her beautiful clothes because nobody has bothered to put her to bed. She notices her parents fighting as just another part of her routine. Adults whirl in and out of her life, never there when they are supposed to be, and Maisie just takes it all in with the composure of someone who has long since given up being disappointed. She knows more than the adults give her credit for, even if she doesn’t know how to place this knowledge into a larger context.
My favorite part of the movie is when Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard) and Maisie are together. He is her mother’s new husband– young and tall, a seemingly immature career bartender. He may have wandered into this situation as a meandering young man with few responsibilities, but as soon as he lays eyes on Maisie, he recognizes that this kid is not being taken care of properly. Lincoln connects with her more deeply than anyone else, and their chemistry is so rich and electric it brightens the screen. From their first moment together I thought, I wish the rest of this movie was the two of them playing around New York City together. I just want Maisie to be with Lincoln forever and no one else. I could watch a whole movie just about the two of them.
Not that the rest of the cast isn’t good– Steve Coogan and Julianne Moore become wholly unlikable and destructive as Maisie’s parents, which speaks to their acting talents. Their characters (Suzanne and Beale) are often despicable, but also each have moments– subtle, lovely moments– when you can see on their faces that they know they’ve messed up and are lost. The nanny character, Margot, was the least strong for me personally. She’s just so pretty I can hardly notice anything else about her– and her character feels too “perfect.” But on the whole it’s a good, solid cast with a strong center in the young Onata Aprile as Maisie.
This is a movie I’d like to see more than once, and my thoughts might change after sitting with it for a while. But it’s a good movie, and one I’d recommend to anyone. And at 1 hour 40 minutes it’s a nice break from all the 2 hour plus movies that seem so common lately. Take a break from the heat and/or the rain this weekend, have some organic popcorn and a grapefruit Izze, and settle in for a thoughtful drama.
What Maisie Knew is playing at Images Cinema Friday 6/7 thru Thursday 6/13. For details and showtimes, please visit our website http://www.imagescinema.org.