What Maisie Knew

Julianne Moore and Onata Aprile in "What Maisie Knew."

Julianne Moore and Onata Aprile in “What Maisie Knew.”

“What Maisie Knew,” is an absorbing, well acted and uniquely told story of a family breakup.  What sets it apart from other dysfunctional family stories (if that could be called a genre) is that it is seen entirely from the point of view of Maisie, an only child, who looks to be about four or five-years-old.

Maisie is played by Onata Aprile.  It is a performance simultaneously rich in depth, childhood naivete and yet one that also displays great strength as Maisie tries to come to grips with, and make sense of, what is happening around her.  How directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel got such a performance from this young actress, without relying on easy sentiment, is a real credit to them.

Since “What Maisie Knew” is told from the child’s perspective.   As a result, we do not get all the details of what is going on, as we might in a more traditionally told story.    For example, there are no anguished court room scenes in which the parents fight for custody, although these certainly do occur off camera.  Interestingly enough, I did not miss these scenes.  We are only shown what Maisie sees and that is all that is needed.  From this perspective we are given enough exposition to follow the story and fill in any blanks.  For example one parent attempts to manipulate Maisie against the other, the parents argue, Maisie’s mother talks to her lawyer via cell phone.  Things just come at Maisie, and us, often unexpectedly.  What this means for the audience is that we get to experience events on two levels.  We see them from a child’s point of view but, at the same time, we can apply our own, adult, perspective.

The cast is quite good.  At first it looked as if the father, nicely played by Steve Coogan, was going to be story’s heavy.  It seems to me that men usually receive a bad rap in these types of movies.  Somehow it is just too easy to blame the father.  However, no sooner was I having this thought then I discovered that the mother, played by Julianne Moore, is no bargain either.  Alexander Skarsgard and Joanna Vanderham round out the cast, playing two people who represent a respite, and maybe even a better life, for Maisie.

“What Maisie Knew” is based on a novel by Henry James.  The story has been updated to modern day New York.  It is a sensitive, insightful drama, uniquely told and played by a fine cast.

“What Maisie Knew” is playing locally at Angelika Film Center, 18 West Houston Street.

What Maisie Knew, Director Scott McGehee and David Siegel, 2013, Millennium Entertainment, 99 minutes, rated R

Seth@townvillage.net

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on May 8, 2013, in New and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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