Critics' Pick

What Maisie Knew (R)

Drama 99 May 24, 2013
By Alan Scherstuhl
There are times during the affecting tumult of What Maisie Knew when you may think, "At last, a great American film about childhood!" And then there are times when, despite the scrupulousness of co-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel's adherence to the perspective of this particular child being ground through this particular custody battle, you will think, "Damn, her midtown Manhattan apartment has staircases in it." A plotless blur of a breakup and its aftermath as experienced by an observant grade-schooler, What Maisie Knew has been scraped free of all the hoary Hollywoodisms that have barnacled themselves to movies about kids. The title is a summation of content; all you'll see and hear is what Maisie (played by Onata Aprile) knows. Brisk scenes give an impression of her days: dashing about in a tiara with a school friend, waiting for mom or dad to pick her up or drop her off, digging into delivered pizza with the babysitter while her parents (Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan) shout "fuck you!" at each other a couple rooms away. When Maisie interrupts the grown-ups’ vindictive, circular battles, they playact that everything’s okay, that they just got carried away with nothing that really matters. "Oh, hey, baby," says Julianne Moore's rock-star mother, as if everything's OK, the words a kid-sized band-aid tasked with covering a family-sized wound. Maisie's life is so often upended that she becomes quick to adapt each new situation; it's the transitions she struggles with, those days when she's handed off from one adult to another. Eventually, we see that What Maisie Has Learned is how to manipulate the chaos around her to achieve her own improbable peace.
Scott McGehee, David Siegel Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgard, Steve Coogan, Onata Aprile, Emma Holzer, Diana García, Stephen Mailer, Joel Garland, Samantha Buck, Gil O'Brien, Diana García Carroll Cartwright, Nancy Doyne Millenium Entertainment

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