What Maisie Knew

Year: 2012
Production Co: Red Crown Productions
Director: Scott McGehee/David Siegel
Writer: Nancy Doyne/Carroll Cartwright/Henry James
Cast: Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgård, Onata Aprile, Joanna Vanderham

The best thing about Room was the way director Lenny Abrahamson framed everything from Jack's (Jacob Tremblay) point of view. I thought Abrahamson had been a pioneer of sorts because I hadn't seen that sort of thing done so well before, but it was only because I hadn't seen What Maisie Knew beforehand.

Maisie (Onata Aprile) is the cute daughter of flaky rock singer Susanna (Julianne Moore) and self-absorbed art dealer Beale (Steve Coogan), caught in the middle as their relationship falls apart, they take new respective lovers, try to forge on with their fading careers, etc.

Like Abrahamson did, directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel position the audience effortlessly in Maisie's frame of mind, bitter arguments between adults and acrimonious behaviour some strange, otherworldy happenstance in another room she doesn't really understand, only really paying attention when she's left in the care of virtual strangers or bundled into cars in the middle of the night, a weapon in her parents' war.

As an adult you know exactly what's going on and who's being selfish and irresponsible, but along with little Maisie, you're just a leaf on a stormy ocean thrashed around because of everyone else's emotional turmoil, more interested in colouring books and toys.

And that storm which crashes and choruses around Maisie is all in the performances, mostly the razor-sharp portrayal of two larger than life personalities who never should have even got together – let alone had children – in Moore and Coogan.

The script by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright (based on an old Henry James novel, of all things) is incredibly perceptive about the way adults fall out of love and into hate, and seeing it all happen squarely through the charming little girl's eyes is a deft directorial approach that makes it a completely different telling of what could have been another version of this story entirely.

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