Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, this new drama is a modernisation of a novel by Henry James. Onata Aprile plays Maisie, a child stuck in the middle of her parents’ messy divorce.
If we have to see children in films, and I’m still not convinced we do, this is how it should be done. What Maisie Knew puts the young girl at the heart of the drama in order to show the selfish hypocrisy of the grown-ups. By seeing the events through her eyes we find that this child is the most sensible character in the film. Compare this to the child in Elysium, who’s crowbarred in for emotional manipulation with all the subtlety of, well, a crowbar. Maisie is used for manipulative purposes, but not by the filmmakers – only by her unpleasant parents who pass her between themselves like a very cute football.
Aprile plays her so well that had this film been released in December, they’d probably try to give her an Oscar. At just seven-years-old, she manages to completely avoid the usual distractingly poor performances of child actors, which is just as well considering she’s in every single scene. The rest of the cast are less impressive by virtue of not being tiny, but they’re still strong; Steve Coogan is on good form as the awful father, while the always excellent Julianne Moore plays the musician mother – although she is the least convincing rocker since Jessica Chastain in Mama.
It is very American, and gets quite soppy towards the end. For a more interesting twist on this story, check out the Oscar-winning Iranian drama A Separation, which has a moral complexity and raw quality lacking from the incredibly literal What Maisie Knew. Nevertheless, this is a good little summer picture – it’s both sweet and sad, it’s prettily directed and it’s worth watching for Aprile alone.