A remarkable little actress, Onata Aprile, makes her feature-length debut as Maisie in this gut-wrenching expose of her two lousy parents and their battle to see which one gets custody of her. Based on the Henry James novel published in 1897, screenwriters Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright have taken James' timeless story and contemporized it perfectly.
Susanna (Julianna Moore), a has-been rock star struggling to maintain her career, is Maisie's mother. Her father, Beale (Steve Coogan), is an art dealer who travels extensively. Maisie's nanny, Margo (Joanna Vanderham), adores her, and Beale --- convenient for him.
Into Susanna's life breezes Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard), a bartender, who instantly takes to Maisie. They form a strong bond, which infuriates Susanna, who jumps on her tour bus leaving Maisie behind. With two absent parents, Margo and Lincoln step in to care for Maisie, providing a sense of stability she has never known.
Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, this is the first really good film of the summer. The cast is impeccable and the dialogue is even better. Aprile is incredibly adept at fielding her way through this territory filled with explosive land mines. For such a young actor, she navigates this poignant script like a pro. She never overplays her cuteness, and the directors never assess her more than she can handle.
The adults in this film are equally intuitive. Moore is just so good at roles like this. And Coogan, known more for his comedic side, is quite brilliant as Maisie's flummoxed, self-centered father.
But Skarsgard and Vanderham really make this film. Their relationships with Maisie are the most moving and comforting. We fear for this child and what will become of
her --- and yet we know that these two characters will never let her down.
This is exactly the kind of film that David and I live to write about. A true team effort --- great writing, directing and acting. One simply cannot ask for more than that.
Yes, there is a lot of competition out there right now with all of the noisy Hollywood blockbusters vying for attention. But, if you are looking for a truly terrific movie with an adorable, amazing little girl, then "What Maisie Knew" is the ticket.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
His View: Onata Aprile plays the title role of Maisie, a six-year-old sweetheart caught in the middle of a divorce/custody battle between her rock star mother, Susanna (Julianne Moore) and her art dealer father, Beale (Steve Coogan). While the couple argues in the film's opening scenes, mostly off camera, there is Maisie, tinkering with her toys, yet somehow, we get the impression she knows exactly what is going on. She also knows what most children her age have figured out --- what makes them happy --- and that is the crux of this heartfelt, touching and bittersweet tale of failed relationships, and new beginnings when least expected.
Everybody in this little girl's life loves Maisie, each in their own way, and why not? She is incredibly wise beyond her years, a child that quickly gets under your skin, but in a good way. Young Aprile is on-screen for practically the entire movie. Her performance is simply astounding at such a tender age, her first leading role.
Complementing the stand-out cast are Alexander Skarsgard ("True Blood", "Melancholia") and Joanna Vanderham as Lincoln and Margo, respectively. Lincoln, a bartender, and Susanna are first seen smoking dope together. They eventually marry. Margo is Maisie's au pair in New York City. She and Beale eventually marry. Both unions are more a matter of convenience and doomed to fail, but what Lincoln and Margo have in common is a deep affection for Maisie, and a growing attraction for each other.
With a screenplay smartly written by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright, based on a Henry James novel, and jointly directed by the team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel, "What Maisie Knew" is one of the best movies of the year thus far. The adult actors are all terrific, particularly Skarsgard, whose self-effacing Lincoln perfectly provides what Maisie needs at this confusing and troubled time in her life. Yet it is the remarkable Onata Aprile who is the glue that holds this little gem together.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!