What Maisie Knew movie poster
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What Maisie Knew movie poster

What Maisie Knew Movie Review

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Some children are blessed with great parents. Some... are not. What Maisie Knew is a compelling but often depressing tale about a young girl who suffers the fate of having two successful but awful parents. Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan play the parents, while Alexaner Skarsgaard and Joanna Vanderham play their respective love interests. Onata Aprile rounds out the cast as the title character.

What Maisie Knew is a relatively simple film with complex characters and strong but nuanced characters. Neither Moore nor Coogan have significant screen time, but their cold portrayals of negligent parents permeate every aspect of the film. Neither are outwardly terrible individuals, but their complete disregard for their daughter's well being is immediately evident. Moore and Coogan play their parts to perfection.

However, it's the heartbreaking performance by Aprile who makes What Maisie Knew as powerful as it is. Her character stands in stark contrast to the miserable creatures that serve as her parents, and Aprile drifts from one sequence to the next, never voicing that she is aware of what is happening and yet silently acknowledging that her parents are a couple of dicks.

Both Skarsgaard and Vanderham also turn in fine performances and set the stage for a "suspenseful" third act that keeps you guessing as to whether Maisie's life will ever receive a permanent reprieve. Co-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel do a good job of guiding the movie to such a conclusion, expertly progressing the story forward in small, nuanced steps.

What Maisie Knew is based loosely on the 19th century novel by Henry James. Its modern day setting aside, fans of the book (I personally don't know any) may take issue with the ending, which does depart from the source material. I liked the ending, but according to Wikipedia, the novel has a much more pessimistic and powerful one. Had I known this in advance, my perception of the film's final act would probably be different.

What Maisie Knew isn't going to win any awards, but it is a well made and well acted drama that serves as a nice change of pace from standard summer fare.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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