must have been a hard pitch. One would
suspect Henry James’ novel of narcissistic, self absorbed parents of privilege
would hit close to home for many decision-makers working in the movie business
(studio or indie, it hardly matters anymore).
Yet somehow, the poor little rich girl will indeed wrestle with her
parental issues in Scott McGehee & David Siegel’s What Maisie Knew (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.
and Susanna are Maisie’s parents, if we can really use that word. He is a dodgy art dealer and she is an
over-the-hill rock star angling for a comeback.
Both are more interested in their careers than their daughter. When they think of Maisie, it is mostly as a
potential club to bludgeon each other with during their divorce proceedings.
he is able to present a more stable front, Beale wins considerable custody
rights. However, this is not all
bad. He is also taking her nanny Margo
as his trophy wife. She actually cares about
Maisie, willingly giving her the time and attention she cannot get from her
parents. Meanwhile, Susanna marries the
working class Lincoln, apparently to have a live-in sitter for Maisie. Like
Margo, he quickly develops a paternal affection for his step-daughter that the
ragingly insecure Susanna perversely resents. Hmm, does anybody see the
potential building blocks of a more functional family unit in here somewhere?
Mrs. Wix. Maisie’s frumpy second nanny
really gets the shaft from screenwriters Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright’s
adaptation. While the James novel rebukes
the shallow indulgence he considered endemic in society, McGehee and Siegel’s WMK seems to suggest blonds make better
parents. The proceedings are also marked
by a heightened class consciousness, with the nanny and bartender showing
superior character than Maisie’s privileged biological parents.
of what James might think of his novel modernized and transported to New York,
McGehee and Siegel have an unbeatable trump card in their young lead. As Maisie, Onata Aprile is completely
unaffected and wholly engaging. She
covers a wide emotional spectrum, carrying the audience every step of the
Joanna Vanderham is charismatic and surprisingly vulnerable as Margo, while
Alexander Skarsgård’s understated nice guy Lincoln is likable enough. Julianne Moore labors valiantly to humanize
the self-centered and psychologically erratic Susanna, but Steve Coogan is
largely stuck playing a caricatured straw-man as the arrogant Beale.
Maisie’s cast and co-director definitely stack the deck,
but at least they do it thoroughly and compellingly. Viewers will absolutely care about the bright
and precociously self-aware Maisie, which is the acid test for any film focused
on a young protagonist. The upscale New York locations also add a dash of élan. Anchored by several well turned performances,
What Maisie Knew is surprisingly satisfying. Recommended kind of affectionately for fans
of literary melodrama, it opens this Friday (5/3) in New York at the Angelika
Labels: Henry James, Julianne Moore, New York Cinema, Steve Coogan