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What Maisie Knew

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Aug 13, 2013
What Maisie Knew

Though Henry James' classic tale of embittered, alienated former spouses and the child they treat callously was set in the late 19th century, its essential story is, unfortunately, timeless; "What Maisie Knew" translates easily to the 21st century, though the upper-crust parents are given a contemporary spin, turning into a rock musician and an international art dealer, while the stepparents are working-class.

As Susanna, Maisie's mother, Julianna Moore is a frazzled blend of faded glory and savage mood swings. The girl's father, Beale, played by Steve Coogan, is just as unreliable; he's juvenile and unable to hold onto adult relationships. When the two estranged parents marry (something they never did with one another), it's to Irish au pair Margo (Joanna Vanderham) and affable, slightly slackish Lincoln (Alexander SkarsgÄrd), a bartender at a swank restaurant.

Both Margo and Lincoln dote on Maisie (Onata Aprile, who is terrific in the role), but unprepared for the ways in which they, like Maisie, are neglected. As her biological parents drift farther into their own self-absorption, Maisie is increasingly left in the care of her stepparents. This is the best thing for her, of course, but will her parents, who have a talent for inflicting emotional carnage, see fit to leave her in more capable hands?

The Blu-ray / DVD Combo pack of the film, directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who work from a screen adaptation by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright, offers a number of special features, which are the same on both the DVD and Blu-ray discs. These include three deleted scenes, only one of which offers anything of substance, as Maisie chats with a locksmith, revealing her age -- she's six, younger than one might have thought, and so that much more precocious -- and recalling how her mother changed the locks on her father the day she decided to kick him out. There's also a music video produced as background for the film (it's playing on Susanna's TV during a party scene). The directors also weigh in on a commentary track.

If this smartly directed, lusciously acted, expertly produced film about a child who is light years ahead of her elders seems a little familiar in tone to another Juliana Moore film, it's no coincidence: The same producers brought us "The Kids Are Alright."

"What Maisie Knew"
Blu-ray / DVD Combo
Millennium Entertainment

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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