What Maisie Knew Screen 10 articles

What Maisie Knew


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  • It's a chinchy, uncaring viewpoint of distinctly white, upper-class issues, familiar to those who dig through the skullduggery of tabloid journalism, but the filmmakers plead ignorant to the trashiness of their subject matter. The tone is that of elevated drama, tinged with limp comedy and executed with an indistinct, if competent, visual acumen.

  • There’s little nuance in the ways these parents hurt their daughter—children are perceptive to tension within a marriage, but Moore and Coogan are amplifying them through a bullhorn here. And the ending involves some wrangling that’s contrived on a narrative level, absurd on a legal one.

  • The girl’s parents are self-involved beyond belief, even more than might be explained by a child’s lack of understanding. If the idea is for the audience to feel similarly yanked around, then What Maisie Knew succeeds wildly, but it fails to bring much insight to what essentially amounts to a massive parental guilt trip.

  • Lack of fidelity in an adaptation is no crime, but with such a pointless movie, it’s hard to know why the title of this public domain novel — whose loosely adapted plot points could have been stolen for free — was retained. Then again, maybe that’s the point: a bait-and-switch for James devotees, with the original removed and no substitute offered.

  • The official festival sleeper, “What Maisie Knew,” directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, is an engaging update on the Henry James novel about a remarkably well-behaved child caught between a pair of divorced and monstrously self-absorbed parents.

  • Young Aprile is a real find, investing what might have been a symbolic part with a visible sense of craft and patience (this isn’t merely cute-kid cinema), but it would be a shame not to mention the risks taken by Moore and Coogan, pushing difficult parts into daring registers of irresponsibility... You’ll resent What Maisie Knew’s tidy conclusion... a compassionate turn that comes as a relief even as it undoes a lot of hard-earned toughness. Still, go for the performances.

  • The screenplay, by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright, avoids a sentimental tone, which helps enormously with such tricky material. Maisie does not seem like a typical "movie child," and this is a credit to the young actress playing the role, as well as to the restraint of co-directors McGehee and Siegel. Maisie is not precocious, she doesn't throw tantrums and in only one scene do we see her shed a tear.

  • Skarsgard and Vanderham are charming and convincing as the flaxen-haired guardians who prove to be much more adept at child rearing than Maisie’s biological parents. The simple moments of childhood bliss they facilitate—a day at the park, a game of monopoly, horseplay on the Highline—seem to alleviate the cumulative effect of parental neglect.

  • The absence of voiceover, and the fact that there is little attention given to Maisie’s patterns of behaviour in ways that might give us access to her inner life, leaves us on the surface with a wonderfully touching performance but no real equivalent of the deep feeling of responsibility of James’s Maisie, or of the crisis of her so-called ‘moral sense’ at the novel’s climax. However, enough remains of the traumatic events in James’s story to give the film a spine...

  • It’s probably best to approach Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s intimate, unnerving and entirely addictive drama “What Maisie Knew” by not leaning too hard on its Henry James source material. While readers of James’ brief and brilliant 1897 novel will surely spot and enjoy the numerous parallels and points of connection, this is an absorbing 21st-century childhood thriller – not a contradiction in terms, I promise – that requires no literary study.

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