Being a child of divorce can be extremely difficult, especially when you’re very young and somehow still more mature than your feuding parents. This is the case for Maisie (Onata Aprile), a sweet, sensitive six-yer-old girl who feels trapped between the ongoing battles between her rock star mother and art dealer father, who consistently use their daughter to hurt one another, and fuel their rage for each other. Based on the Henry James’ 1897 novel, What Maisie Knew explores the pain of divorce from a child’s eyes.
Maisie’s parents, Susanna (Julianne Moore) and Beale (Steve Coogan) couldn’t be more different. It’s actually quite difficult to imagine what these two ever saw in one another, though we do get glimpses in their alternating passionate and passive-aggressive arguments. Susanna and Beale both have careers that take them away from home for long stretches of time and only seem interested in their daughter in order to weaponize against one another, leaving her to the care of her nanny, Margo (Joanna Vanderham). Though they aren’t married, when the couple finally decide to split after years of tumultuous co-habitation, Margo, whom Beale quickly marries in order to retain joint custody, and Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard), Susanna’s retaliation husband, become the parents that Maisie never had: considerate, attentive, and supportive.
Removed from the neglect and narcissism of her parents for brief periods at a time, audiences get to see Maisie truly blossom. But the arrangement is far from deal; the people who love Maisie most have no legal claim over her and must contend with parents who will stop at nothing, including irreparably damaging their child, to get back at one another. What Maisie Knew is tender, beautiful, melancholy, and real. Aprile, who plays the titular character, shows vast emotional awareness and talent, and Lincoln gives evoked an unexpectedly warm and moving performance from Skarsgard. The film isn’t extraordinary in any way, but the complexity of this blended family’s drama is deeply alluring and affirming.
I give this one 4.25 stars.