By Dan Metcalf
Clipper Film Correspondent
What Maisie Knew (Millennium Entertainment)
Rated R for some language.
Starring Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgård, Joanna Vanderham, Onata Aprile.
Written by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright, based on the novel by Henry James.
Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel.
It's a common belief that divorce is never easy, and usually most difficult for the children of parents who split up. It's even more difficult when the parents are less mature than their offspring. What Maisie Knew, a film based on the 1897 novel by Henry James paints this picture quite effectively.
Julianne Moore plays Ida, an aging rock star living in New York City with her husband Beale (Steve Coogan) and small daughter Maisie (Onata Aprile). As Ida and Beale's marriage dissolves, Maisie becomes a pawn for both parents; used to exact revenge on each other. After a nasty custody battle, Maisie splits time between both parents, who exhibit all kinds of selfish and crude behavior, without regard for their little girl. Beale immediately runs off and marries Maisie's beautiful governess Margo (Joanna Vanderham), while Ida gets married to Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård), a young bartender. Ida's motive for getting married to Lincoln is a desperate attempt to gain favor with the family court by providing some stability in her otherwise hectic world of rock and roll tours, recordings and parties.
As Maisie spends time with both irresponsible parents, she also gets closer to both of her new step parents (Margo and Lincoln), winning over both of them with her irresistable charm and innocent grace (even though Margo already loved her prior to the divorce). Lincoln and Margo meet and are immediately drawn to each other.
Eventually, Maisie's parents get caught up in their own careers and lifestyles as Beale escapes to England, while Ida takes off on tour. They eventually abandon Maisie – forcing the little girl to seek refuge with Lincoln and Margo, who are falling love with each other while giving Maisie the love and stability she longs for. When Ida returns from her tour, Maisie must choose between the chaotic life of her mother and a more stable environment with Lincoln and Margo.
What Maisie Knew is a very good film that will break your heart. If it were only a novel, life would be so much better for so many kids who get caught up in the take-no-prisoners battleground created by childish parents. I suppose it's comforting to know that not all divorces are as petty and brutal as Beale and Ida's demise.
The shining light set against the backdrop of the ugly divorce in What Maisie Knew is Onata Aprile, who gives and honest and perfect performance of a little girl without guile and a great capacity for unconditional love. Aprile ought to be considered for best supporting actress awards at the end of the year (despite playing the leading role in the movie). Even though you despise their characters, Moore and Coogan deserve credit for their performances as well. Skarsgård and Vanderham are equally brilliant in their supporting roles.
A few qualms I had over What Maisie Knew include an ending that seems a little too much of a fantasy, along with some dialogue that overstates the obvious. One example is a scene where Margo tells Ida she doesn't “deserve” Maisie – as if the audience couldn't figure that out for themselves.
Even so, What Maisie Knew is a good film about some very bad parents, and the collateral damage they leave in their wake. It's also a story of hope and the resilience of a little girl with a pure heart.
The film will open on Friday May 31 at the Broadway Centre Theaters on 111 East Broadway in Salt Lake City.