Divorce and custody battles may be happening more in today’s society as compared to the late 1800s when Henry James wrote his novel, What Maise Knew, but his fictional account of irresponsible parents is now a feature film directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, based on the screenplay written by Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne.
The adaptation of the book is very contemporary, featuring Onata Aprile as Maisie, daughter to a musician, Susanna (Julianne Moore), who is aging according to the industry, and a contemporary art dealer, Beale (Steve Coogan). Moore and Coogan portray the irresponsible characters perfectly as they each want what they want, regardless of the impact on the beautiful child who tries to make the best of her world.
The story is heartbreaking at times when the viewer can see how the irresponsibility of the parents can take a toll on a 6 year old, but Maisie manages to survive with the love of the ex-nanny, Margo (Joanna Vanderhamand) and the man who suddenly becomes her step-father, a young bartender Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård). I love the chemistry that develops with these three actors who genuinely portray how three people who are not blood relatives can form a bond and a family environment organically.
There is one scene in the film that practically made my heart stop when totally irresponsible Susanna decides she has to go on tour immediately late at night, leaving Maisie behind. I was so afraid for the child and upset at how selfish Susanna is, but thankfully the film does not take a horrific turn of events that it could potentially could have.
Onata Aprile does an amazing job of telling the story of a little girl caught up in the midst of her parents’ negativity and who only really think of their immediate needs without thinking them through. Although she has some prior film and television credits, this film will likely bring more attention to her acting ability and we can likely see more of her on screen soon. Amazingly, I did not a tear with this film, but that is not to say that many viewers may need a few tissues.
This film has been in several international film festivals, starting with Toronto last September and now, What Maisie Knew opens Friday, July 12th at the Arbor Cinemas at Great Hills in Austin, Texas. Don’t miss this exceptional film.