Title: What Maisie Knew
Indie director duo McGehee & Siegel has harvested great word-of-mouth and critic appraise for their second feature THE DEEP END (2001), although the following spelling bee drama BEE SEASON (2005) is a fiasco and after a low-key romance-drama UNCERTAINTY (2009), their fifth collaboration is WHAT MAISIE KNEW, a modern-day custody battle in NYC transposed from Henry James’ 1887 novel of the same title.
Maisie is a beautiful schoolgirl, mom is a rock singer and dad is an art work broker, their bourgeois life has plummeted into chaos when her parents facing an ugly divorce, the contest for her custody introduces Maisie a stepmom and a stepdad, whom Maisie grows close with thanks to the regular negligence of her biological parents.
The film valiantly fixates its camera from Maisie’s angle, she is the reticent victim of the aftermath caused by her parents’ failure to co-exist under the same roof, through her ethereal princess adorableness, the film is ample with aesthetically stunning shots, NYC has never been so unworldly intimate and hauntingly dreamlike, all the more precious, McGehee and Siegel unflaggingly refuses to betray any speck of sentimentality and melancholia, as awful as the situations are, there is no tear-jerking awkwardness, instead, a less-disturbed recording of the hustle and bustle is capable of invoking much more inner ripple effects and self-reflection.
Onata Aprile as Maisie, has been elicited great onscreen glamour through her innocuous postures, she is no crybaby, no temper tantrum either, a dainty soul evolves far maturer than she should have. Moore and Coogan as the biological parents, are the negative examples of parenting, Moore renders a spot-on mimicry in her rockstar garments and delivers an overpowering rancor out of her character’s unlovable carapace while Coogan, sheds his comic burden, is less flamboyant but more cunning than he appears.
Skarsgård and Vanderham, as the young surrogate caretakers of Maisie, the former downplays his masculinity and feels shortchanged as a toy-boy-bartender, the latter is such a boon to the film, Vanderham vibrantly offer her second fiddle role with great emotional ups-and-downs, as her film debut, she should on the list of young talent to watch.
A no-guts-no-glory slant on familial dysfunction on parenting, a moral tale to forewarn those adults who think they can, but are not wise enough to proffer a healthy environment for their children, who supplant devoted love with self-centered egoism and play the under-appreciated one to earn others’ sympathy. What Maisie knew? She knows when adults are lying to her, she knows how to be the grateful to the kindhearted, she knows how to love her parents in spite of their respective imperfection, Maisie knows too much about the despicable world, but she is also a lucky girl, she has found something which is untainted and someone who will cherish her wholeheartedly. The film is an indie gem and attests McGehee and Siegel’s faculty in film-making should not be overlooked.