Warning: What Maisie Knew should not be used as a parenting guide. Just out on DVD and Blu-ray, this exceptionally fine film -- directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel (the team behind the Tilda Swinton noir, The Deep End) – finds a precocious New York first-grader being tossed back and forth like a beach ball by her separated, self-absorbed mom and dad.
Starring a wide-eyed and watchful Onata Aprile, who was all of 7 when the film was shot, What Maisie Knew is an adaptation of a lesser-known Henry James novel, a novel that screenwriters Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright have brought from the late 19th century into the early 21st with bracing pathos. When Maisie’s rock and roll star mother, Susanna (Julianne Moore), and British businessman father, Beale (Steve Coogan), decide to break up, their daughter gets shunted from one apartment to the other, and gets left standing at the door of her grade school, waiting for someone to remember to pick her up. Enter a beautiful au pair (Joanna Vanderham), who Beale thinks it would be a good idea to pair up with, and a strapping young bartender (Alexander Skarsgård), who Susanna figures would make a nice trophy husband – and a nice babysitter while she’s out on the road.
The selfishness and irresponsibility of the two parents are stunning, and Maisie’s resilience even more so. If you didn’t get a chance to catch What Maisie Knew when it was in theaters this spring, do so now. The film deserves to be remembered come awards season time.