Kudos to screenwriters Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright for extracting the essential truth of Henry James' novel What Maisie Knew and implanting it in a thoroughly modern context. Released from the dreary schoolroom, hansom cabs and grey skies of Victorian era London, 'Maisie' feels fresh, new and right at home in Manhattan's upper west side, circa now.
|The directors chat with Onata over a Shirley Temple|
|Julianne Moore's character has a way with words|
|Kelly McGehee nails the design concept for Susanna's Manhattan home|
|Maisie loves her daddy played by Steve Coogan|
|Margo (Joanna Vanderham) and Maisie|
|Susanna /Julianne Moore + Lincoln /Alexander Skarsgard|
In a desperate stab to hold onto her custody rights, Susanna responds to Beale's marriage by taking up with the much younger, Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard), an awkward, overgrown puppy and hanger-on who Maisie quickly grows to adore. There's a slight turning in of the toes of Skarsgard's Converse-clad feet that accentuates the gawky giant's sweet and uncomplicated nature. Helping Maisie open juice boxes, striding the High Line in Manhattan as Maisie dangles from his bicep, Lincoln comes off like a true manny who adores his tiny charge as much as she does him.
|Alexander Skarsgard: "stepdad" or manny?|
In the source material, Maisie is supposed to alternate from house to house every six months; the movie's more modern equivalent makes the proposition 10 days with mom, ten days with dad. In both instances, Maisie is likely to hear the equivalent of 'you take her - no you take her' while her parents and caretakers constantly leave her stranded.
|Sarsgard + Onata Aprile color together|
Credit to Ms. Moore for layering her own character so richly; in a telling scene Susanna is working on some vocals in the glass sound booth in her home studio, while Lincoln Susanna' sweet and awkward bartender boy-toy cum 'husband' hangs out listlessly and Maisie sits coloring. The more Lincoln is drawn to Maisie, engaging with her, helping her to color a tricky drawbridge, both of their faces lit up with happiness and oblivious for a few moments of Susanna and her constant needs; the more we see her face darken through the glass booth. She finally storms out and pulls Maisie into the booth with her; so jealous is she, so unused to sharing the spotlight. Selfish to be sure, but still a mother; Susanna's maternal instincts do kick in a dreadful moment when she sees fear on Maisie's face for the first time.
|Julianne Moore is heart-wrenching as Maisie's extreme|
"Are you afraid of me?" Moore almost wails, the cry a threat in itself somehow. It's her most dramatic moment of the film; her face crumbling as she sees herself through Maisie's young eyes.
Even when they've let her down the most, Maisie still responds to the sound of her parents' voices by running and jumping into their arms, calling out mommy mommy, daddy daddy. She will always love them; they're her parents, it's in the nature of children to love their parents - even when their parents are abusive or negligent. By the movie's end, Maisie has learned someone is supposed to be looking after her. And that that somebody may just have to be Maisie herself.
What Maisie Knew is an emotionally moving story that is as vital and alive as ever thanks to an inspired script, directors who weren't afraid to let a little child lead them, strong performances on every level and along with skilled, modern, costume and production design, a solid score from Nick Urata.
And enjoy the trailer here -