What Maisie Knew - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

What Maisie Knew Reviews

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Super Reviewer
May 24, 2014
Not a bad movie by any means, but really expected something more. With a title like that, I thought there was some huge dark secret to reveal. There's not. What Maisie knows is what it is apparent to the audience pretty much from scene one - her parents are hopeless. That's it. There's no abuse or scandal here. Light drug use is hinted at, but not explored - just two people who shouldn't have been a couple and certainly shouldn't have had a child together. Both parents move on to other partners. It just so happens that the partner Maisie's dad chooses is the nanny hired by her mother. Then both parents behave selfishly and loose their new partners - the two get together and look after Maisie. That's where it gets far fetched and lost me.
The child actress who plays Maisie is very good. The adult cast are also effective. The story just could have been so much more than it was.
Super Reviewer
October 18, 2013
This is a heart wrenching story of a precious little girl (brilliantly played by Onata Aprile) caught between her two unbelievably, selfish, divorced parents. Nothing terribly bad, or tragic, happens in this movie. However, my heart was breaking just from watching the confusion, and heartbreak, in this little girl's eyes as she is continually let down by her immature parents. This movie is very slow going, but worth the effort. A rather happy, but bittersweet ending, also.....
Super Reviewer
October 11, 2013

"What Maisie Knew" is one of those dramas that takes itself very seriously, and in the end doesn't really know what it what's to be. At least that's what I took away from it. This is pretty much about the absolute worst set of parents ever(Jullianne Moore and Steve Coogan). They fight all the time and neglect their daughter, Maisie. The are always pawning her off to the nanny(and Coogan's new wife) Margo(Joanna Vanderham) and Moore's new boyfriend Lincoln(Alexander Skarsgård ) They pretty much bond with Maisie while her parents are off doing who knows what with who knows who. It's find of a downer of a movie, even though it's not really meant to be that way. It's very slow and the performances are all solid, but nothing spectacular. This is one to just skip and catch on Netflix eventually if your really bored, or need help sleeping.
Super Reviewer
½ October 3, 2013
A sensitive and sad film that can be uncomfortable and infuriating to watch sometimes as we witness a child getting caught in the middle of a troubling divorce between her pitiful parents, and it knows how to tackle this delicate matter with the subtlety that it deserves.
Nate Z.
Super Reviewer
May 31, 2013
Did you know that What Maisie Knew is based on a novel by Henry James that was published in 1897? I sure didn't, but then again my knowledge of Mr. James is somewhat limited. James tale of negligent parents passing off their daughter back and forth was controversial when the novel was first published. Updated to modern-day New York City, seven-year-old Maisie (Onata Aprile) is the pawn in her parents' contentious divorce. Her father, Beale (Steve Coogan) is an art dealer who is constantly on his phone and making out-of-country trips. Her mother, Susanna (Julianne Moore), is an aging lead singer for a 90s alt rock band who also likes to party. Beale remarries Margo (Joanna Vanderham), a young woman who previously served as Maisie's nanny. No to be outdone, Susanna remarries Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard), an affable bartender who's somewhat clueless around kids. Everyone is trying to navigate the tricky new relationships and what they think is best for Maisie, though Lincoln and Margo seem to be the only ones who actually care.

When it comes to divorce dramas, the easy way is to go big, to ramp up the emotions of such an emotionally distraught experience, and to tip into the overwrought territory of melodrama. I can already imagine the animated shouting fests and crying fests. Then there's the impulse to go the bitterness route, like 2005's The Squid and the Whale, where the movie takes a cue from its feuding parents and infuses the film with a dark, overpowering sense of acrimony. I credit directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel (The Deep End, Bee Season) for making arguably one of the most subdued movies about divorce I've ever seen. It's certainly not flippant in the slightest, treating the subject, and mainly the toxic effect on Maisie, with sincerity and good taste. But as far as overblown shouting matches, they're kept to a minimum and mostly comprise the first fifteen minutes of the movie, establishing the inevitable divorce of Susanna and Beale. The movie ignores the sensational and focuses on the ordinary, little moments of complete believability that serve to build, like brick by brick, the overall reality of the story. You'll watch the film and think to yourself that, even with parents with completely outlandishly rich professions, that everything in this movie could realistically happen. Weird to think that James wrote his tale over 100 years ago and yet how relatable his conflicts still are to this day. However, because of this subdued, naturalistic approach, What Maisie Knew can't quite find a proper ending. The one presented seems a tad too pat and tidy for this movie. It almost approaches a"happy ending," though not quite. Still, knowing how thick-skulled both Susanna and Beale are, it's hard to think that they will ever come to their senses and do what's in the best interest of Maisie.

This can be an uncomfortable movie to watch because Maisie's mom and dad are so destructively neglectful and self-involved. There's a perverse rubbernecking draw to seeing the antics of truly awful parenting. You'll find yourself getting very mad at how terrible these people are at being human beings. Susanna and Beale interrogate their daughter for ammo they can use against the other, twisting and manipulating the kid that we wonder if either truly cares about. Dad's always full of excuses and mom's looking to flee from responsibility at a moment's notice, dumping her daughter on her latest boyfriend. You'll find yourself easily sympathizing with Lincoln and Margo, the two people who love Maisie most and would make the best parents for her. I began rooting that they just abduct Maisie and start a new life as a family in a different country. The unchecked narcissism of both Susanna and Beale could serve as a clinical study. It's a wonder that Maisie seems like a bright, playful, and relatively normal kid. For now.

Another aspect of McGehee and Siegel's joint direction that I really enjoyed was how the movie takes on the perspective of little Maisie; she is our eyes and ears, and often the camera framing will instinctively mirror her own point of view, cutting off adults. It's an interesting visual approach but it also further tethers us to this girl, forcing us to think even deeper about Maisie's perspective, and how she's interpreting the angry words. I suppose there is a valid argument to be had that a seven-year-old child is going to be a rather limited perspective on such a contentious conflict. There's also the nature of Maisie. She's a relatively quiet child, given to poking her head around corners and staring with those big glassy eyes of hers. Given the fact that she's a child, and processing a painful life experience, don't expect her to divulge too much about her thoughts and feelings. She's an opaque presence and I realize that that can get frustrating for some. She's not the kind of kid that's going to burst into tantrums. This girl is internalizing all the pain and confusion. Having a passive prism for your movie might be akin to telling a love story from the point of view of a potted fern. Literally anchoring the camerawork to Maisie (I don't want to oversell this as if it's a stylistic gimmick) forces us to constantly think of every action through its impact upon Maisie. It's not exactly a coming of age or loss of innocence tale but more a combination of the two.

If you're going to have a child be the star of your movie, you better choose wisely. I've found that as I grow older I have less tolerance for poor child actors. Perhaps it's my inner Scrooge. Good thing that little Aprile (Yellow) is so effortlessly heartbreaking as she tries to find her way amidst her changing home life. One day she has a mom and dad, then she's splitting time, then her daddy has a new mommy, who happens to be her old nanny, and then mommy has a new husband as well (Susanna admits she got remarried simply to improve her court standing). Aprile nicely underplays her character's innate vulnerability while still reminding you of her youth. She'll get scared and ask to go home, crying alone in her bed, and your heart will ache. I cannot say whether the strength of Aprile's performance lies more with her legitimate skills as an actress, good direction, or the general reticence of the character, and thus the lesser demands for a child.

Moore (The Kids Are All Right) and Coogan (The Trip) give surprisingly textured performances, at least more so than the opening fifteen minutes would have you believe. They can both be monstrous and callously indifferent to their daughter's well being, but as the movie concludes, each one of them has a small moment where they realize the damage they are inflicting upon their child, how poor a parent they have been (Susanna even lashes out at Lincoln's encouragement to Maisie as "undermining her as a parent"). It's much more than I was anticipating and both actors do good work at being unlikable without going overboard. Fans of TV's True Blood might just swoon a little harder thanks to Skarsgard's good-natured, humble, and mildly affecting performance as a man who becomes profoundly attached to Maisie. He may not know what he's doing but isn't that parenting as a whole? Skarsgard and the charming Vanderham make a great onscreen pair and their genuine affection for Maisie provide the most uplifting moments.

When it comes to parenting, there are no magic instructions to insure a responsible, loving, thoughtful, and independent human being. It's a leap of blind faith. However, it's much easier to predict the events that can screw up an impressionable child (do not misconstrue this as my declaration that children of divorce are, at heart, broken somehow). The thought of collateral damage is fresh in our minds as we track little Maisie trying to survive the reach of her terrible parents. The terse arguments can be painful but even more painful is the overall negligence of her rich and mostly absent, self-involved parents. What Maisie Knew isn't a downer of a movie and its subject matter is given proper seriousness and reflection. You'll likely cringe at points, may even grumble under your breath, but in the end it ends on a hopeful note, the possibility that Maisie, under the right guidance, could turn out to be the bright kid we see glimpses of at her school. There's something quite moving about the resiliency of a child. This is, of course, just one interpretation of the movie, but What Maisie Knew is an emotionally engaging, subdued, sincere, and poignant film that trades on naturalistic waves of human interaction rather than cartoonish bluster, all the while forgoing cheap sentimentality or unpleasant bitterness. For the performances, the deft handling of sensitive material, and the quality direction, give What Maisie Knew a chance when able.

Nate's Grade: B+
Super Reviewer
May 9, 2013
'What Maisie Knew'. Emotionally turbulent in the best possible way. Onata Aprile gives the most captivating performance of the year.

The perspective it delivers on a child's almost unconditional ability to love is brilliant.
Super Reviewer
August 11, 2013
Susanna (Moore), a rock singer, and Beale (Coogan), an art dealer, are embroiled in a battle for custody of their six-year-old daughter, Maisie (Aprile). Neither particularly cares for the child but both are determined to win custody, purely to spite the other. When Beale marries Maisie's young Scottish nanny, Margo (Vanderham), Susanna sees this as a cynical move to curry favor with the courts. Determined not to give Beale this advantage, Susanna weds young bartender Lincoln (Skarsgard). Unlike her real parents, both Lincoln and Margo show genuine affection to Maisie and, when circumstances continue to push them together, Lincoln and Margo begin to fall for each other.

The high concept plot of Henry James' late 19th century novel seems tailor made for the sort of rom-com guff that usually stars Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler and an irritating kid from the Jonathan Lipnicki pre-school of acting. Thankfully, Hollywood execs aren't big on classic American literature and so the indie pair of McGehee and Siegel have been able to adapt James' work without any climactic races to airports, handsome villains or sassy ethnic best friends. While they largely eschew sentimentality, McGehee and Siegel avoid the darkness of the source material. "Charming" seems to have become something of a dirty word in modern cinema, where a film is only considered an "adult drama" if it's drab and depressing. 'What Maisie Knew' has charm in spades.

In less subtle hands, this could be a mawkish travesty, with a Disney Club child actress spouting "insightful" dialogue well beyond her years. Thankfully, Maisie is a realistic six-year-old and, far from having a collection of wise-ass soundbites, is a largely silent character. Aprile is fantastic in the role, conveying more emotion with her eyes than the likes of Dakota Fanning could have ever accomplished with any amount of dialogue. She's present in almost every frame, which means we see the quartet of adults only when in her presence, biting their tongues so as not to upset her. This is the one decision that really elevates the film above similar dramas. There are no shouty arguments, instead we have whispered rage and unspoken desire.
Last year we had two examples of how not to base your film around children ('Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close', 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'). 2013, however, has been a vintage year for child-based film ('Mud', 'Broken', 'Wadjda'). Kids are not the insightful dwarf-philosophers so many bad screen-writers think they are. They're simply smaller, dumber, more naive versions of us and, when portrayed this way, they can make for great movie characters.
Super Reviewer
½ August 19, 2013
Super sad and well-told. Gut-wrenching.
Super Reviewer
½ January 7, 2014
In what can be described as a contemporary Kramer vs. Kramer, What Maisie Knew is a devastating portrait of the effects of parental dissolution on children. It's a film that is maturely executed, brilliantly acted, and powerfully rendered. The film follows a six-year-old girl, Maisie, as she tries to make sense out of the disarray caused by her parents break-up. The result is a drama that is penetrating in its commentary, poignant in its message, and absolutely captivating.

What is most unique about the film, is that the film's narrative point of reference stays almost entirely with Maisie. We see through her eyes, and thus witness the actions and behaviors of those around her with a sort of uncanny innocence. This makes for an extremely authentic study of children caught in the midst of such turmoil. Maisie's growing awareness yet relentless spirit is conveyed throughout. The film captures such family dynamics in a realistic way, which makes the emotional impact very strong, albeit often uncomfortable.

The performances also help create an effective character study for all involved. This is true of everyone, especially Onata Aprile, who gives one of the more remarkable child-actor performances in quite some time. Julianne Moore is also notable, turning in a remarkable portrayal as a broken, caring, yet torn mother who can scarcely hide her disdain and insecurity.

In the end, we are left with a film that resonates on a deep emotional level, especially for viewers who can relate to the film's bitter insights. Highly recommended.

4.5/5 Stars
Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
½ December 13, 2013
I don't know about you guys, but this title makes this film sound like a horror flick, or at least it seems that way when it's slapped on the poster, which features the titular little girl just staring fairly eerily at the screen. Well, this may as well be a horror film, as the horror of a bitter separation of the parents is an overwhelmingly terrifying thing for a child to endure... or whatever. I don't really know how brutal of a dysfunctional family film this can be without being totally unfaithful to the 1897 novel, which I'm sure was harsh, but wasn't so hardcore that it featured a rock star in the middle of a divorce. Well, it's just a chick rock star, but still, this is somewhat hardcore drama, and I guess that's why they don't bill Steve Coogan all that high in the cast promotion, because as much as he's established himself to be a dramatic talent, to the point of landing a pretty significant role in a film this brutally dramatic, they wouldn't want you to mistaken this for a comedian. Well, Coogan's more serious roles are generally found pretty low in profile, so I'd imagine anyone who would see this film is aware of Coogan's dramatic acting career, as this is by no means a high-profile project. Yeah, yeah, I know that this film goes so far as to also employ Alexander Skarsgård and Julianne Moore, but after that cameo in "Movie 43", I reckon it's safe to say that Moore just has to be cheap. Well, at least her integrity isn't so dead that she's beneath doing decent dramas that the commercial superficials aren't going to hear a thing about like this one, whose own integrity is still shaken by certain aspects.

The film has a few relatively unique aspects, but they can't entirely cover up the familiarity of this subject matter, which is almost blandly recognizable as a family dysfunction drama, and let me tell you, that blandness isn't exactly helped by the dry spells. Now, the film could have been duller, and I was sure expecting it to be that, but all of the meditations upon substance start to devolve into some serious blandness once material runs out, as it often does, what with all of the dragging. While not that long, the film gets to be overlong at times, offering plenty of draggy meditations upon substance that eventually become overemphatic of thematic depth, leading to subtlety lapses. Of course, those subtlety lapses are themselves somewhat subtle, as the film isn't all that bloated, and, as irony would have, that's the final product's biggest issue, because more than anything, storytelling is hurried and undercooked, if not kind of repetitious with all of its jumping from one major plot beat to another. While slow in pacing, the structure of the film is mostly too brisk for its own good, and yet, there was always to be undercooking, as this narrative is told entirely from the point-of-view of the titular child, whose limited understanding of the key conflicts in this tells you only so much about this family dysfunction drama. I suppose this storytelling style is refreshing, but it's also convoluted with its sparse material delivery, which limits resonance that is further limited by familiarity and other pacing problems that seem to never abate, leaving the final product to never quite pick up enough momentum to charge beyond underwhelmingness. The overambitious effort is kind of misguided with its efforts, until reward value is lost, though not so lost that decency isn't recovered, with the help of such subtly fine attributes as tasteful artistic value.

I wasn't really expecting this film to be all that strong with its visual style, and, well, it isn't entirely, as Giles Nuttgens' cinematography is not that upstanding, although it is still fairly handsome, with a soft emphasis on certain areas in lighting that add an almost dreamy quality which may reflect the drama's central theme dealing with a juvenile heart caught up in the midst of heavy situations. Arguably more reflective of the film's theme is Nick Urata's score, which is unevenly used in this often dryly quiet film, but still tasteful and clever with its plays with near-adolescent perk, combined with atmospherically hearty, lightly classical elements that prove to be beautiful, as well as complimentary to the core of this very thematic drama about family dysfunction as seen through the eyes of a child. Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel utilize style fairly tastefully in order to move, not just on an aesthetic level, but with a thoughtfulness that augments the heart of this drama's substance, and when the quieter, less stylish moments of meditativeness kick in, they even draw you in, at least to some degree. Sure, the particularly thoughtful moments in direction are generally kind of blanding, but pacing never slips to truly dull depths, and when material really kicks in, the meditations subtly bite and do a fair bit of justice to the potential of this project. Sure, this modernist interpretation of Henry James' classic dramatic story has not simply become formulaic over the years, but is questionably structured with its handling very layered subject matter with a weight that is limited by a child's point-of-view, and yet, this subject matter remains worthy, with a compelling heart whose execution is faulty, but nevertheless endearing. More endearing than the direction, or at least more consistently endearing, is the acting, as most every member of this admittedly small, but talented cast delivers in their selling different perspectives of very intense subject matter, sometimes to a moving point. If there are resonant moments to this often cold drama, then they are anchored by highlights within some underwritten performance, and while there is ultimately too much missing in storytelling and consistency in inspiration for the final product to win you over as surely as it could have, there is enough inspiration on and off of the screen to engage much more often than not, regardless of limitations.

In conclusion, the story is a little too familiar and draggy, perhaps even unsubtle, for its own good, and it's certainly too hurried for its own good, to the point of exacerbating the undercooking that is anchored by the questionable storytelling method of telling this drama from the point-of-view of a lead whose understanding of important subject matter is limited to the point of being instrumental in holding the final product back as underwhelming, but not so underwhelming that tastefully fine cinematography and score work, - utilized fairly well by sometimes effectively meditative direction - and strong acting behind a worthy story aren't enough to make Scott McGehee's and David Siegel's interpretation of "What Maisie Knew" an endearing, if sometimes misguided observation of a child's observation of the destruction of adult relationships around her.

2.5/5 - Fair
Super Reviewer
½ August 18, 2013
A wonderfully directed drama by Scott McGehee and David Siegel which could bring tears but it'll do that with a great deal of tenderness and intelligence. There is nothing I could find as a fault in this modern times adaptation of the Henry James' novel What Maisie Knew, set in modern-day New York City. The story of a family which was hardly that: mother Susanna is a pushy but seductive rock and roll icon who lives with Beale, a charming, distracted art dealer, and both of them are unnerved by the prospect of middle-aged stasis and drawn to other lovers. Of course, there could be no other result than separation. Maisie, their only daughter, is caught in the middle of it all, a flesh-and-blood bargaining tool who winds up being shuttled back and forth between her parents as they each attempt to start their lives afresh with new partners, Lincoln and Margo... but, they don't change one bit, and results of those relationships are disastrous.

It was a pleasure watching these amazing actors: Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgård, Onata Aprile, Joanna Vanderham and Steve Coogan. Tiny Onata Aprile was actually the "biggest" - she was the most adorable, most charming, most believable and deserves every praise possible. She wasn't JUST a cute kid, but as a fully formed actress, and I will even dare to say, person! The screenplay had every character fully developed and at the end we could conclude that this beautifully observed drama essentially striking the same sad note for the full length of the movie, does that with enough sensitivity and emotional variation. I am glad that doing that it made the experience cumulatively heartrending rather than merely aggravating.

If you are ready for a seriously impressive drama that packs one hell of an emotional punch - prepare yourself! It is here.
Super Reviewer
August 6, 2013
Beautifully acted and nicely written drama where a young girl is used as a pawn in her separated parent's arguments and emotional blackmails, only to discover - perhaps for the first time - genuine warmth and unconditional love from her parents respective new partners. What Maisie New is emotive engaging and poignant and has exceptional performances from the supporting cast and a nicely naturalistic turn from the gifted child actress.
Super Reviewer
August 8, 2013
This movie moves a bit too slow, but overall I liked the movie. It's kind of a depressing movie like how Blue Valentine is. The whole movie you just want to shake this girl's parents and be like "Do either of you, really give a crap about her?" And not only were thoughtless about the well being of their daughter but they didnt treat their significant others well either. It's not sure whether Beale ever cared for Margo, but its painfully obvious that Susanna marries Lincoln out of spite. I was so happy in the end that Margo would go to the court and petition for her to have custody of the girl. That didn't happen but it was a rather happy ending and leaves you with this hopeful feeling that Susanna will try better for the sake of her daughter. In the end scene she pretty much has this realization moment where she figures out she's a crap parent.

All in all, it was a pretty good watch but it did have its problems.
August 2, 2014
I approach any movie with a child actor as the lead with skepticism, but this movie was surprisingly great. Onata Aprile gave a shockingly emotional and touching performance as Maisie, and at times I forgot her character was a six year old kid based on how she dealt with her family and surroundings. I wouldn't say anyone else really stood out as anything above fair, but the conflict between the characters and their responses to their situations felt very plausible, if not always genuine or realistic. Overall, this is a great movie that will make you laugh and consider what it means to be a parent.
½ March 17, 2014
Very interesting and emotional, this movie tells the story of a painful divorce through the eyes of a child. Almost heartbreaking, but surprisingly hopeful and sweet...
January 12, 2014
Superb script, well-acted by all-star cast as well as young newcomer Onata Aprile. This is the story of what a couple of torn-up marriages do to a small child. Roles are reversed, with the parents throwing tantrums, avoiding responsibility, and lying pathologically. That this youngster seems unusually self-possessed and somewhat unaffected at first seems improbable, but the impact is clear by the end.
August 15, 2013
Is a movie still considered "indie" if it stars Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgård and Steve Coogan? Doesn't matter. They and the rest of "What Maisie Knew" are great. But who anchors the film is youngster Onata Aprile as the title six-year-old, scrappy and believable as her life revolves around the whirlwind divorce of her parents (Moore and Coogan), both of whom treat Maisie with a somewhat compulsive and removed affection. A tonally convincing exercise capturing the throes of a domestically bittersweet makeshift, "What Maisie Knew" does just about everything right.

It's crazy daring (and damn difficult) to build your film from the perspective of a child (Aprile is absolutely perfect), yet directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel and screenwriters Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright -- updating for today a late-19th century novel by Henry James -- turn what could have been a hollow take on the dysfunctional day-to-day of a singular little girl into a movie of haunting multitude and feeling. Shrugging it off as white people problems is about as deadpan as one can get. I'd say it ends on the note we as an audience want it to rather than where it realistically should, but that's just nitpicking since I can't think of anything too wrong with it. "What Maisie Knew" is something special and hard-won, transfixing and subjective while never not profoundly universal. (80/100)
½ December 16, 2013
Heartbreaking movie, with a great child performance by Onata Aprile. She mainly just "is" a 6 or 7 year old, she doesn't seem to try to do any child actor tricks or anything, just a natural performance. You really feel for Maisie with her mostly horrible parents. I really liked Skarsgard and Vanderham's characters and how they truly became Maisie's surrogate parents, and much more deserving than her real parents. Although it ends hopefully, I can't but think Lincoln and Margo have little chance of actually getting custody of Maisie, even if they'd want it (and who knows long term). Great little movie.
December 3, 2013
Brutally accurate, this indie should be remembered come awards time. Highly recommended for anyone who has kids.
November 25, 2013
Summary: It's sweet and full of great performances, What Maisie Knew works as a family drama, and will probably pull on your heart strings, even if it often feels too predictable.

The Good: The performances are the film's best assets. From Skarsgard and Vanderham's sweet step-parents to the bitter and disinterested parents portrayed by Coogan and Moore, the cast works in their roles. Director's McGehee and Siegel know how to craft the tone of the film by using beautiful visuals and subtle music touches to help us connect with Maisie.

The Bad: Not much bad to comment on here.

The Smugly (Nitpicks): It gets a little repetitive with many of the storybeats, but it's understandable because McGehee and Siegel are building a case against the parents. Many of the plot points are predictable.
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