Friday, June 28, 2013

What Maisie Knew (Rhoades)

“What Maisie Knew”
Is Age-Old Story

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

In “Maisie” (1939), Ann Sothern starred as a street-smart Brooklyn showgirl who gets caught up in romantic entanglements. It was the first of ten such films. Among them, “Gold Rush Maisie,” “Maisie Was a Lady,” “Ringside Maisie,” and “Swing Shift Maisie.”

So I went to see “What Maisie Knew,” thinking it was a modern-day continuation of those Maisie movies.


This Maisie is a seven-year-old girl caught up in a bitter custody battle between her parents. It’s based on the Henry James novel of the same name.

Set in contemporary New York, Maisie (well played by Onata Aprile) must deal with the antics of her parents (Steve Coogan and Julianne Moore). In their efforts to win the court’s approval, the divorced parents impetuously re-marry. Beale, a major art dealer hooks up with Maisie’s nanny (Joanna Vanderham). And Susanna, an aging rock star, latches onto a likeable bartender (Alexander Skarsgård).

Eventually, Maisie and her new stepparents come to realize they are all merely pawns in a greater battle. Joining forces, they must work together or face the wrath of Maisie’s dad and mom.
The 1897 Henry James novel is “a thoroughgoing condemnation of parents and guardians abandoning their responsibilities to their children.” The movie makes the same point.

“What Maisie Knew” can be found at the Tropic Cinema.

As directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, the film has been called “a study of human nature, not at its worst, but at its most typically pathetic, and it goes to show that the more things don't change, the more they stay lousy.”

Co-director Siegel says, “We were most attracted to telling a story from a child’s point of view.”
McGehee adds, “And so much of that we owe to Onata Aprile, who plays Maisie. We fell in love with her on day one. Her spirit is just so lovely; every day she would show up, just happy to be there. We had as great an experience filming with her as we did shooting The Deep End in Lake Tahoe.
Siegel agrees. “Onata is like Tilda Swinton and the lake rolled into one. I would wake up each morning knowing, ‘I get to go to work with Onata today!’”

Who are these guys?

Scott McGehee:  “I’m the smart one.”

David Siegel:  “I’m the handsome one.”

You choose. But they usually work as a team.

Siegel shares their background. “We didn’t go to film school. I was a painter. Scott was going to be an academic. We were finishing graduate school when we started working together. It was quite a long time ago. There was no institution to say, maybe one of you should do this and one of you should do that. We were so ignorant and naïve about what filmmaking was, what the process of making movies was.”

They sum it up, “We consider ourselves American filmmakers who appreciate the old Hollywood methods of storytelling very much.”

And old novels by Henry James.

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