Review: What Maisie Knew
WHAT MAISIE KNEW (M)
Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Henry James's tale of a bitter custody battle is more than a century old but co-writers Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright have skilfully updated the text to create this generation's Kramer vs Kramer.
But while this affords Julianne Moore's wannabe rock star Susanna (apparently inspired by both Courtney Love and Patti Smith) and Steve Coogan's entertainment manager Beale plenty of opportunities for spitting venom and vitriol at one another, the power of co-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel's drama comes from them placing the audience on the shoulder and at times in the shoes of the warring parents' young daughter Maisie (an understated and yet unusually assured Onata Aprile).
Kids eye level cameras, a xylophone-infused score and the constant presence of Maisie (Aprile is in virtually every scene) draws us into her world and makes the constant background bickering, spiteful behaviour and sheer parental neglect all the more outrage inducing.
As in James's original story, her nanny Margo (Young James Herriot's Joanna Vanderham) and her Mom's lover, bartender Lincoln (True Blood's Alexander Skarsgard) become almost surrogate parents for her, with the latter actor's performance a particular highlight as his childlike qualities endear him to Maisie.
Some James purists may bridle at the exclusion of a key character from the book and a few more "hopeful" changes but would could have been a White Oleander-style messy melodrama (or a Bob and Ted and Carol and Alice-esque partner swapping caper) is instead a riveting and compelling portrait of a disintegrating relationship and the small quiet observer caught in the middle soaking up all the anger and antipathy.
This is a film that will make you think twice the next time you argue in front of your kids and have you rushing home to give them a hug.
Deeply sobering but stunning cinema.