Sunday, June 30, 2013

What Maisie Knew (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

What Masie Knew

Those that enjoy a dose of  family drama with an  objective and tempered balance are well served in "What Masie Knew" based on the Henry James novel. The film takes a non-committal and holistic approach reminiscent of "The Kids Are All Right." This is no surprise, since the film is produced by Neil Katz, Todd Labarowski and Key West's Anne O' Shea, the deft producers of that 2010 Indie which proved a Tropic favorite.

Young Onata Aprile stars as Masie, an open and inquisitive girl who is pushed and pulled by her biting parents. Masie is no pushover. Her wide-eyed wonder combined with her accepting spirit and pluck will nudge your heart. Rather than war like her parents, she takes conflict as a matter of course and drifts into introspection and fantasy.

Juliane Moore co-stars as the mother Susanna, whose personality rockets into near plutonium levels of manipulation and harshness, but her character sincerely loves Masie. Susanna is a rock musician fiercely driven to reach stardom seeing a custody battle as a matter of ego and validation. She is not a bad mom but a clearly imperfect one, shuffling her daughter like a glittering pet, only to drop her off  with an irresponsible negligence.

In an instance of improbable casting, the comical and philosophically amused Steve Coogan (The Trip) also stars as Masie's father Beale, who is too obsessed by career and women to provide much time. Yet because of Susanna's high octane parties, the narcissistic and overly-entitled dad gets child custody.

Although there are more than a few poison episodes, no one is absolutely villainous here, but Susanna is close. With her wired and pale face complete with a red slash of lipstick, she falls just short of a monster.  Masie becomes like a camera, recording her parents shortcomings, analyzing them abstractly and reflecting a mirror upon mom and dad.

Alexander Skarsgård also appears as Susanna's makeshift husband Lincoln who is sleepy-eyed, bumbling and hesitant. Thankfully  he steps up as needed and shows himself to be the man with the bigger heart. This is true of the role of Margo, the fiancée of Masie's father excellently played by Joanna Vanderham, displaying her maternal care for the child along with her lack of experience.

"What Masie Knew" dispenses with any sort of kid gloves in its city savagery, but it is less brutal than "Kramer vs. Kramer." Instead, it puts us squarely in the emotional landscape of a child kneaded in between her two birth parents who clearly and deliberately choose not to act responsibly.

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