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Friday, December 13, 2013

WHAT MAISIE KNEW (2012)

A clever, largely successful updating of Henry James’ devastating little child custody novel by scripters Nancy Doyne & Carroll Cartwright and directors Scott McGehee & David Siegel. The tone is slightly flattened, the timeline compressed and the ending sentimentalized, but the story feels right at home in its new place & time. Maisie, our small heroine, is a little girl forced to play shuttlecock between her insufferably self-centered, divorcing parents. The gimmick that drives the story is that when they each remarry younger prettier people, the new step-parents become the loving care-givers Maisie’s never had. The hurdle for the filmmakers is that the Leisure Class world of James, where no one seems to work and children are sent off to boarding school at the first opportunity, and then rarely seen, has to be completely rethought for NYC-2012. It makes for a different, but accomplished work on its own terms with exceptional perfs from Julianne Moore, merciless as an aging egoist rock star; Steve Coogan as a schedule-driven international business sort; and Alexander Skarsgård & Joanna Vanderham (both crazy attractive) as earthbound step-parents, each out of their depth in their respective new marriages. Directors McGehee (what a fun name to type!) & Siegel tend to leave something on the table (a laugh, an emotion, crucial info!!), but at least they don’t dawdle. And young Onata Aprile is just great as Maisie, finding the perfect grace note for one difficult situation after another.

DOUBLE-BILL: Vittorio De Sica just about started Italian Neo-Realism looking thru a child’s eyes at his parents’ failing marriage in THE CHILDREN ARE WATCHING US/’44; or check out Maisie’s worst-possible future in Ingmar Bergman’s AUTUMN SONATA/’77 where Liv Ullman’s reproachful daughter puts all the blame on her neglectful, gallivanting concert-pianist mother Ingrid Bergman.

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