In 1897, Henry James published a novel about a young child shuttled back and forth between her irresponsible divorced parents.
Although the premise is more than a century old, “What Maisie Knew” is perfectly re-told in modern day New York in a film adaptation that’s both beautiful and hauntingly sad.
The movie shows a bitter custody battle through the eyes of the six-year-old at the center of the dispute.
Maisie’s parents Susanna and Beale (played by Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan) are spoiled and selfish, using their daughter as a pawn in a messy divorce when not neglecting her entirely.
“Susanna toys with her emotions, cooing “You know I love you more than anything” while fobbing off the child to the nearest care-taker; Beale ignores her, or talks to her as if she’s a small adult. Left with strangers and doormen, as if she’s a not-very-valuable package, Maisie grows accustomed to waiting; what she knows is that she doesn’t always matter,” wrote Moira Macdonald in the Seattle Times.
As the film goes on, the audience watches as Maisie’s parents re-marry in a flash, and she is thrown into a confusing world of step-parents and shifting households. Her “almost-casual loss of innocence” is made even more moving and painful thanks to a brilliant performance by the young Onata Aprile.
“As a tiny Alice navigating a very strange Wonderland, young Aprile will break your heart,” wrote Macdonald. “She’s perfectly natural in front of the camera, quietly taking things in. shocking, how much she absorbs a source of sad speculation for any compassionate viewer.”
What Maisie Knew is now playing in theaters in limited release. Visit the film’s website for show times in your area.