What Maisie Knew | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

What Maisie Knew

A low-key domestic melodrama, told from the perspective of a little girl


Maisie (Onata Aprile) is a bright and lively 6-year-old whose otherwise enviable life in Manhattan — fabulous apartment, fun school — is continually disrupted by her self-absorbed and selfish parents. Mom (Julianne Moore) is a fading rock diva, alternating wildly between smothering and neglect; dad (Steve Coogan) is simply too wrapped up in his art business. Their final screaming match ends in a break-up. Now poor Maisie is shuttled back and forth, a pawn in a battle for control, and increasingly under the care of her parents' respective new spouses — the former nanny and now dad's wife (Joanna Vanderham) and a kindly bartender (Alexander Skarsgård).

Scott McGehee and David Siegel's drama is a modern adaptation of a Henry James story. It is presented from the point of view of Maisie, who is surprisingly agreeable given the turmoil of her life. But she is not untouched, and young Aprile gives a winsome, unmannered performance that conveys all her heartbreak in her sad saucer eyes and the casual shrug of her shoulder.

The slim story ultimately ends up in a place that feels both wonderful and inauthentic. Like Maisie's life, the film is a bit of a rocky journey, but well acted throughout and an interesting low-key entry in the often overwrought domestic-melodrama canon. Manor (Al Hoff)

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