Torn between two lovers
SUSANNAH (Julianne Moore) and Beale (Steve Coogan) are New Yorkers going through a vitriolic break up, as witnessed by their young daughter Maisie (Onata Aprile) in What Maisie Knew.
Maisie’s mother is an ageing rock star trying to stage a comeback. Her dad is an art dealer who travels constantly.
Each fights bitterly for custody, but neither has much time for their child. So Maisie finds herself bounced back and forth between them and their respective new partners, played by Alexander Skarsgard and Joanna Vanderham.
Henry James wrote the novel What Maisie Knew in 1897 when divorce was a relatively new concept.
Its devastating impact on children hasn’t changed and gets an affecting modern-day treatment in this film by writer-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel ( The Deep End).
The gimmick is that we see the action through Maisie’s field of perception: snippets of conversation as adults bustle in and out of rooms screaming at their lawyers on mobile phones.
Clearly, this is potentially melodramatic stuff and the filmmakers have wisely cast a child who does not make any obvious grabs for the heartstrings.
Aprile’s Maisie keeps her calm while the adults around her behave like children.
She’s shuttled at 10-day interviews between the luxurious Manhattan residences of her warring parents, who never hesitate to bad-mouth each other.
Coogan is in his element playing a self-interested charmer and Moore is particularly good as a jealous woman desperate for her child’s affection, but too selfish and petty to provide her with a secure home life.
By contrast, Skarsgard ( True Blood) is deeply sympathetic as her new boyfriend, a young bartender who proves that actions speak louder than words when it comes to loving and raising children.
Maisie bonds with her caring step parents, but is left in the lurch when these hasty marriages crumble.
Affecting, alarming and well-acted, What Maisie Knew makes great use of its New York locations.
What Maisie Knew opens today.
Onata Aprile, as Maisie, with co-stars Alexander Skarsgard (above) and Julianne Moore (left)