November 21, 2013

Netflix Picks: What Maisie Knew

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Netflix unleashed a new stash of movies and television this past week that will surely keep me occupied for a while (read: a week). Upon this discovery, I immediately gravitated toward last year’s Skyfall — no one will keep me away from Daniel Craig and his perfectly tailored suits. But I’m going to say that many of you already saw the movie if you cared to, or have at least heard of it. Instead, I’m going to recommend What Maisie Knew, based on the 1897 novel of the same name by Henry James. This modern retelling of the Victorian classic was both poignant and haunting.

Told from the point of view of 6-year-old Maisie, the story shows us the effects of a nasty child custody battle between two very incompetent parents. Whether your parents are divorced or not, many of you will identify with the feeling of confusion and possible guilt when you see your parents argue or fight. As much as parents would like for their children not to know the problems that they face in their relationships, it inevitably seeps into day-to-day interactions with a child. Plus, I don’t know about all of you, but I had a knack (and still do) for eavesdropping, not that it was very difficult. I don’t know why adults delude themselves with thinking that children are so unobservant, so I found this film very refreshing in this sense. Moreover, Onata Aprile is phenomenal with her very honest portrayal of the quiet yet inquisitive Maisie. Although I may feel for a child in a drama, I don’t tend to identify with him or her so much. The opposite was true here.

The adult actors also did a wonderful job in this film. Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan played Susanna and Beale, Maisie’s absentee/negligent parents. I tend to equate Julianne Moore with more cookie-cutter, nurturing, good girl roles, but I must say she played the washed-up rock star very well. Her heart may be in the right place, but she plays the ill-fitting mother quite well. At times you root for her and she just as quickly flips the tables, making us hate her even more. Coogan, on the other hand, just played the douchebag role to perfection. Although the funnyman, I must say he has found quite his niche in the drama market.

Lastly, there are Joanna Vanderham in her feature debut and Alexander Skarsgard (who is adorable with his little costar both off and onscreen). She plays Margo, Maisie’s nanny who ends up marrying Beale. Although the stuck in the middle of this custody fiasco, she is one of Maisie’s only true caretakers. The moments with Maisie are quite believable; other than that, she made her discomfort with her relationship with Beale way too obvious. Her darting glances did not add to her character’s nervous nature; instead, it was more of like, “Am I hitting my markers?” “Am I acting right?” Skarsgard, luckily, was quite convincing as the unsuspecting victim of this battle who falls into his role quite smoothly. He may also be in a weird position, but he will do what is right for Maisie at the end of the day. In fact, Maisie does better with her parents’ spouses rather than her biological parents.

All in all, the film was quite moving. It shall depress you a bit, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re at either too happy or too sad. You want to be in more of a neutral position on life before you take on the plight of little Maisie. Regardless, the film is quite relateable and worth a viewing for inward reflection.