A divorce is typically a sticky situation, but the chaos of separation becomes even more tragic when a child is thrown into the mix. This poor, innocent victim did absolutely nothing wrong, yet now has to be subjected to split time between parents, hate inspired speak from both sides, and a perception of life no child should start out with. This is the story of What Maisie Knew, a heart-wrenching tale of one family’s separation told through the eyes of their daughter, Maisie (Onata Aprile). While tragic and utterly soul-crushing at times, directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel also manage to capture the beauty, wonder, and child-like curiosity in our dynamite character Maisie, played to perfection by our pint-sized leading lady.
With a cast including Steve Coogan, Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgård, and Joanna Vanderham, we watch as Coogan and Moore’s characters call their relationship quits, and how both Skarsgård and Vanderham step into Maisie’s life.
Coogan doesn’t really step out of the box, playing a elitist businessman always running about on international trips and whatnot, but Moore certainly gets to have a little fun playing an aging punk rocker. Coogan’s chemistry with Aprile is fantastic though, as the little girl acts years beyond her age, playing sweetly with Coogan’s intellectual nature. Then we get the contrast as Maisie is allowed to let loose around her more relaxed mother, but Moore’s jealousy eventually starts to consume her. Skarsgård and Vanderham are unfortunately victims of their own circumstances, getting tangled up with both Coogan and Moore, but Onata Aprile brings all of these people together in separate showings of heartwarming love, breaking the numerous fights and hate by reminding everyone there’s a little girl in the center of this crazy whirlwind.
That’s the most important part of What Maisie Knew. We aren’t berated by scene after scene of Maisie being mistreated and caught in the shuffle. The overall tone of the film isn’t dark, depressing, or off-putting because of horrible parenting and neglect. While your eyes may certainly tear up in the necessary moments Maisie does have to deal with unfortunate hardships because of her scenario, she never loses that adorable gleam in her eye. The way she deals with certain interactions makes her seem like a tiny adult, letting on that she’s much more enlightened to her predicament than we’d think. Maisie is a small little hero, full of courage and undeniable cuteness, offering both an immature yet extremely intelligent viewpoint from a child caught in a brutal custody battle. It’s a side we’ve never seen before, and this is completely because of Onata Aprile, giving one of the absolute best performances from a child actor her age I’ve ever witnessed. Hands down. This little girl has such a bright future ahead of her, and I can’t wait to watch her career blossom before our eyes.
When discussing such a punch-packing drama though, I’m much more lenient of special features. The meat and potatoes of What Maisie Knew is undoubtably located in the story and performances, which the film delivers in spades. Sure, the fantastic Blu-Ray quality of the picture and the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio go a long way to ensure the best viewing experience possible, but it’s not as huge a deal because there are no action-type explosions or crazy Sci-Fi settings. The Blu-Ray does capture the beautiful city scenery and chic apartment spaces though, so there isn’t a worry about picture quality here.
In the way of Special Features, this is what we’re working with:
- Director’s Commentary
- Deleted Scenes
The deleted scenes are minimal in the sense that they were cut for a reason, only giving a few short glimpses more of Maisie along with a full song played by Julianne Moore’s character Susanna. Sure, it’s a little extra content, but nothing worth writing home about – which is fine in this case. The Director’s Commentary provides more insight into the performances, production, and passion that went into What Maisie Knows, offering something more substantial for those Special Feature junkies.
But if you’re a fan of touching, emotionally charge cinema and strong, unexpected performances, What Maisie Knew is an absolute must-have for your collection. Marveling at Onata Aprile’s unmatched performance should provide enough reasoning alone, but directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have adapted Henry James’ novel with fantastic results, also thanks to screenwriters Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright. This tremendous filmmaking team effort deserves every bit of recognition it’s getting, and I only hope it garners a larger following now that it’s available as a home release.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.
What Maisie Knew is a must-see tour-de-force film featuring one of the most incredible child performances ever captured on screen. Onata Aprile, welcome to Hollywood - and don't think you're leaving any time soon.