Sunday, 11 August 2013

What Maisie Knew


I caught this today at Harbour Lights on a members' free preview screening. Well done 'Picture house'.

This film is equally as sad as it is heartwarming. It is a contemporary retelling of the Henry James novel from 1897 of the same name. It tells the story of Maisie (Onata Aprile) who is a seven year old girl growing up in a privileged way in Manhattan New York. Her mother Susanna (Julianne Moore) is an ageing hippy rock-chic, still recording and touring but never having been able to move beyond petulant selfish teenager herself. Her father Beale (Steve Coogan) is an art dealer who is so distracted by his business that he is unable to maintain a meaningful relationship with either his wife or his daughter.

It comes as no surprise that the strained marriage flounders to breaking point and ends up in court. Beale gains the upper hand in terms of custody and access. Susanne is embittered that the Judge didn't look too kindly on her and repeatedly bemoans the fact throughout the film.

The story is told from Maisie's perspective and it is clear that that she is the most balanced and even-keeled character in the film. Both her parents are preoccupied by their respective careers. Susanne hosting extravagantly noisy rock parties in the apartment with hints of drug-taking. Beale talks about endless maybes and promises Maisie and au-pair Margot (Johanna Vanderham) boat trips in the Aegean after a business trip to Italy - which never materialises.

The film sets up a painful pattern of repetition. As soon as Maisie is delivered into the company of either parent they fawn over her - until some external intervention becomes more attractive. Their commitment to Maisie is shallow - painfully and woefully inadequate.

It is clear from the way the story is told that Maisie knows full well what is going on and that she knows who feels what for whom. Both her parents quickly remarry. Susanne marries the handsome younger bar-tender Lincoln (Alexander SkarsgÄrd) who is decent, morally alert and, unlike Susanne, not driven by the kudos of wealth, acclaim or celebrity. She marries him to demonstrate to the courts her stability and ability to be a model parent. Beale marries the au-pair Margot - not seemingly for love, but because she is young, beautiful and a ready-made baby-sitter for Maisie.

The narrative arc is obvious from early on. The interesting thing is how will it come to be. The acting is first rate from all, delivered with tenderness and sensitivity. This film delivers a brilliant expose of the pains of divorce and its effect on the children. The film tries to portray Susanne and Blaise as the victims but of course the real victim is Maisie. In the end, the choice of which family unit she chooses to be a part of is left to her. Very postmodern, but in the film, Maisie is the only one with enough common sense to make the right decision.

This is a heart-warming and affective story with great acting that brings a Victorian novel bang up-to-date. When it hits screens please do go and see it - this would make a great film to discuss in a group over pizza afterwards. I'll give it 8/10.


1 comment:

Duncan Strathie said...

I guess what I should have said in the review was that this is a film about consumerism and disposability. Maise was a product to be consumed by her biological parents when it suited them and the rest of the time she was farmed out to anyone with some common sense.

It is obvious that between them Margot and Lincoln have far more common sense and decency than Suzanne or Beale and are able to offer Maisie the love and stability any child growing up deserves.

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