What Maisie Knew reviews

Mister Tee
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Re: What Maisie Knew reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Sep 08, 2012 3:55 pm

Variety

What Maisie Knew
By Justin Chang
A Red Crown Prods. presentation of a Charles Weinstock/William Teitler Prods. production in association with 120dB Films, Koda Entertainment and Dreambridge Films. (International sales: Fortissimo Films, Amsterdam.) Produced by Teitler, Weinstock, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Daniel Crown. Executive producers, Stephen Hays, Todd J. Labarowski, Anne O'Shea, Eva Maria Daniels, Peter Fruchtman, Jennifer Roth, Marissa McMahon, Todd Traina, Riva Marker. Co-producers, Elfar Adalsteins, Bradley Radoff. Co-executive producers, Neil Katz, Andy Sawyer. Directed by Scott McGehee, David Siegel. Screenplay, Nancy Doyne, Carroll Cartwright, based on the novel by Henry James.
Susanna - Julianne Moore
Lincoln - Alexander Skarsgard
Maisie - Onata Aprile
Margo - Joanna Vanderham
Beale - Steve Coogan

Henry James' 1897 novel about a child caught between two horribly unfit parents has been effortlessly updated to the present day and adapted to the screen in "What Maisie Knew." Anchored by five strong performances, including a piercing turn by Onata Aprile in the 6-year-old title role, this beautifully observed drama essentially strikes the same sad note for 98 minutes, though with enough sensitivity and emotional variation to make the experience cumulatively heartrending rather than merely aggravating. Despite its downbeat material, this classy return to form for Scott McGehee and David Siegel ("The Deep End") should find a sympathetic audience.
Watching an innocent little girl suffer nonstop neglect and subtle forms of emotional abuse is no one's idea of easy entertainment, and while "What Maisie Knew" provides sufficient dramatic modulation for the better part of two hours, it doesn't cushion the blow. Scribes Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne approximate the intimate child's perspective James achieved on the page by placing Maisie (Aprile) in every scene, continually reminding the viewer of the invisible trauma being inflicted by two thoughtless individuals on the person most deserving of their care and attention.

The conflict initially manifests itself as two muffled voices arguing in the background while Maisie quietly does her homework. In short order, her parents, fiery-tempered rock musician Susanna (Julianne Moore) and perpetually distracted art dealer Beale (Steve Coogan), have divorced, leaving their soft-spoken, well-behaved daughter to drift between their respective Manhattan apartments. Each parent wants custody for all the wrong reasons, as it soon becomes infuriatingly clear that, despite their superficial expressions of affection, they're more interested in using Maisie as a weapon against each other than in serving her best interests.

Focusing on small, mundane life moments and interactions (forgotten pick-ups at school, early drop-offs at the other parent's apartment), McGehee and Siegel carefully dramatize the countless acts of selfishness that gradually bring about Maisie's understanding of and profound disillusionment with her situation. In the story's trickiest development, albeit one drawn almost directly from its 19th-century source, Beale marries Maisie's fetching nanny, Margo (Joanna Vanderham), and almost in retaliation, Susanna weds one of her groupies, handsome bartender Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard).

This turns out to be fortunate for Maisie, as Margo and Lincoln prove infinitely more involved, concerned and willing to spend time with the girl, something that becomes increasingly necessary as career obligations call Susanna and Beale out of town. The script at times runs the risk of over-idealizing these stepparents; it doesn't help that the two make such an attractive pair that one spends much of the second half wishing they'd somehow adopt the kid and run off together, a fantasy the film doesn't exactly discourage. Yet Skarsgard and Vanderham overcome this hurdle by projecting enormous compassion as well as basic common sense in their poignant determination to do right by the child.

As for Moore and Coogan, they're sadly all too believable as parents who not only despise each other but are utterly self-absorbed and intoxicated with the particular vices of the modern era. Beale, who has the least involvement in his daughter's life to begin with, at one point simply falls off the map. It's Susanna, trying to convince Maisie and herself that she's a good mother, who arguably winds up doing the greater damage, and Moore acts with a white-hot fury that sends waves of resentment and self-pity flying in all directions.

If Aprile's Maisie seems a bit too angelic -- she never throws tantrums or answers back, and she cries only once, quietly -- this remarkable young actress nonetheless manages to convey in every closeup the painful, premature knowledge described by the title. Given the emotional acuity of the performance, the film need not have relied so heavily on Nick Urata's lush score to suggest Maisie's internal state; a number of scenes would play more effectively sans accompaniment.

Both apartments look spotless and full of color in Kelly McGehee's production design, captured to almost too gorgeous effect in Giles Nuttgens' widescreen compositions; there's a particularly cruel contrast between these beautifully appointed living spaces and the emotional poverty they serve to conceal. Editor Madeleine Gavin expertly shapes numerous minor incidents into an enveloping narrative.

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Re: What Maisie Knew reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Sep 08, 2012 3:38 pm

Screen Daily

What Maisie Knew
8 September, 2012 | By Tim Grierson

Dirs: Scott McGehee and David Siegel. US. 2012. 93mins

A heartbreakingly perceptive illustration of the axiom that when parents get divorced, the ones most affected are the children, What Maisie Knew is a closely observed and deeply emotional drama in which a kind-hearted six-year-old girl only slowly begins to understand the complexity of her mother and father’s dysfunctional relationship. Guided by a superb cast — and a strong turn from newcomer Onata Aprile — the latest from directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel (The Deep End, Bee Season) wrings tears but does so with a great deal of tenderness and intelligence.

All four adult actors have been given layered characters to play, and it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that none of them are easy to peg — at different times in the film, we like or dislike each of them, even though their reasons are easily understandable.
What Maisie Knew shouldn’t have much problem finding a distributor, thanks in part to its stars (including Julianne Moore), although strong reviews should also benefit the cause. This drama ought to cater to adult audiences who will appreciate the film’s smartly handled examination of divorce and a young child’s reluctant coming-of-age.

Working from a screenplay by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright that’s based on the Henry James novel, the film introduces us to Maisie (Aprile), a sweet-tempered girl whose parents — rock singer Susanna (Moore) and art dealer Beale (Steve Coogan) — are about to split up. Quickly, the custody battle over Maisie becomes contentious, and the rancour only escalates when Beale marries their former nanny (Joanna Vanderham) and Susanna in retaliation ties the knot with a dashing young bartender (Alexander Skarsgård). Maisie’s loving nature is tested by the emotional warfare going on between her estranged parents, but at the same time it’s nurtured by their new partners, who are sympathetic to the girl’s delicate position in the middle of all this bickering.

The film works in subtle ways to examine how Maisie reconciles her parents’ fractious relationship — she’s old enough to pick up on their animosity but still too young to fully understand what’s going on. McGehee and Siegel have elicited a deftly understated performance out of Aprile, and the newcomer is wondrous at hinting at Maisie’s quiet thought process as new adults come into her life, all of them wanting to help her through this difficult transition.

Maisie is perhaps too remarkably well-adjusted — her parents don’t know how lucky they are — but the audience watches the grownups’ actions through her innocent perspective, noting that how they pretend to behave around her doesn’t always square with their true actions. (Though neither parent is portrayed as a villain, Susanna’s failings are in some ways the more irksome, her deep love for her daughter laced with a dark possessiveness that can be turned back on Maisie like a weapon.)

All four adult actors have been given layered characters to play, and it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that none of them are easy to peg — at different times in the film, we like or dislike each of them, even though their reasons are easily understandable. Susanna is a prototypical Moore creation, the sort of iron-willed but also badly damaged woman who, in lesser hands, could be shrill but is instead worthy of empathy, despite her bottomless self-centredness. But Beale is her equal in this regard, and Coogan makes good use of his oily charm to portray a man who Maisie can’t help but love. Playing the couple’s rebound lovers, Skarsgård and Vanderham have tricky roles as well, but they develop new dimensions as we learn more about them — they’re hardly saints, but like Maisie, they too are in some ways victims of the furious storm generated by Susanna and Beale’s separation.

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What Maisie Knew reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Sep 08, 2012 3:34 pm

Don't know if this'll turn out to be anything, but interesting people involved, and pretty solid reviews.

What Maisie Knew
8:24 AM PDT 9/8/2012 by John DeFore

The Bottom Line
Tasteful melodrama benefits from uniformly strong performances

Siegel and McGehee make a strong move back to conventional storytelling after experimenting with "Uncertainty"

TORONTO — A broken-family melodrama with a minimum of histrionics, Scott McGehee's and David Siegel's What Maisie Knew begins from scenes that will be familiar to most viewers who've witnessed a custody battle. Things get pretty orchestrated from that familiar scenario onward, but never to the point of unbelievability; the sad tidiness of the film's resolution (and the way it departs from the Henry James book it's based on) makes it all the more appealing at the box office, where it should have the broadest appeal of any of the duo's films to date.

Maisie is a six year-old New Yorker (Onata Aprile) in a position to know a great deal. She knows her rock-star mother (Julienne Moore) is too busy arguing with Dad (Steve Coogan) to pay for the pizza delivery she ordered; she knows Dad tries extra hard to be cute when her nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham) is in the room. She knows Mom and Dad aren't going to live together anymore, and there's a lot of arguing over how much time she'll spend with him. Most importantly, she knows how to keep some of these things at bay -- as the adult relationships around her grow more disturbed, she coasts along as best she can, wisely choosing ignorance when Mom asks if Daddy (now in his own apartment, with the nanny there to help when Maisie's with him) is ever so happy to see Margo he gives her a kiss.

He is, of course, and when he marries his former employee, Maisie's mother Susanna feels she must compete in the court's eyes -- making her own home just as family-like by marrying a younger man (Alexander Skarsgård's Lincoln) she hardly knows. The closest thing to an innocent in all this aside from Maisie, Lincoln -- a lanky Southerner whose body sometimes seems to fold inward on itself in deference to those around him -- can't help but befriend the girl, a development that (to a perhaps implausible degree) disturbs Susanna. "You don't get a bonus for making her fall in love with you," Susanna snaps at one point, making us wonder whether that's a literal comment, and she has actually paid the bartender to be a prop husband.

What's more emotionally abusive to a child whose parents have split -- failing to show up for days when it's time for her to stay at your place (both sides are guilty here), or spending your time with her on loud, "he can't get away with this" phone calls to a lawyer? Steve Coogan's Beale is an up-front narcissist; Susanna needs her daughter's welfare as an excuse to make everything about her own desires.

Moore has the most complicated part to play here, as a woman who really believes she loves her daughter more than anything but is blind to what such a devotion might mean in practice. Over and over, she relies on Lincoln to pick Maisie up from school, watch her when a gig beckons, improvise when necessary. It's inevitable that he will come to identify with Margot, who fills the same role for Beale.

And another thing Maisie knows is to trust the people who actually take care of her -- never voicing an allegiance that would exclude anyone she cares for, but eagerly accepting love that's offered in the form of actions as well as words. In this modern take on a century-old story, that distinction remains the most valuable one of all.


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