Friday, May 31, 2013

WHAT MAISIE KNEW Isn't Just KRAMER VS. KRAMER From The Kid's Point-Of-View

Now playing in the Triangle area exclusively at the Rialto Theater in Raleigh:


(Dirs. Scott McGehee & David Siegel, 2012)

It’s a scene that we’ve seen many times – a husband and wife are feuding, having a vicious argument, and the film cuts to a shot, usually in a dark doorway on the side, of their scared kid witnessing the row with a tear in his/her eye. But then it cuts back to the couple and stays with them.

In a welcome contrast, Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s modern New York City-set update of Henry James’ 1897 book, has a scene near the beginning that has the arguing parents (Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan) going at it, but shows us their daughter Maisie, played by the 6-year old Onata Aprile, maneuvering her way through the apartment to avoid them as she finds money to pay the pizza delivery guy that they are oblivious to.

We can tell that Maisie is used to her folks fighting like she’s not there, and she even goes about playing a game of tic tac toe with the nanny (Scottish actress Joanna Vanderham) as they eat while Moore and Coogan continue bickering in the background.

Rougly 10 minutes in, we get the closest to the standard scene I described above in my opening paragraph, but the child doesn’t cry - she just observes quietly with concern.

WHAT MAISIE KNEW is almost completely told from Maisie’s perspective. We only hear the fragments of her parent’s feud that she hears, and we often see things from her line of sight.

Maisie sees her parents split up, then take up with new lovers, the snobby rich art dealer Coogan with the nanny Vanderham; the rock star singer Moore (they modernized the parents' occupations, of course) with a sensitive nice guy bartender (True Blood's Alexander Skarsgård), and all Maisie can do is take it in with her wide worried eyes.

As she’s shuttled between her increasingly selfish and assholish parents, we see that her mother’s new young husband Skarsgård, and Coogan’s new young wife Vanderham genuinely care for the little girl, and might have a thing for each other as well.

When seeing some of Skarsgård’s affection for her daughter, Moore acidically tells him: “You don’t get a bonus for making her fall in love with you.”

Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright’s screenplay has a lot of insightful awareness as to how children process the doings of adults. Aprile presents Skarsgård for show and tell at School explaining to the other kids: “My father married my nanny, so the court made my Mommy get married too.”

It shouldn’t just be seen as KRAMER VS. KRAMER from the kid’s point-of-view however, there’s a more contemplative tone in which this film isn’t about taking sides or having someone experience a profound realization (well, there may be a bit of that at the end), and its observations are as open minded as Maisie is trying to be.

Amid all the messiness of the grown-ups’ relationships, Aprile’s Maisie just wants to play, draw, watch TV, i.e. be a kid, and retaining that innocence is near impossible around all the daily dysfunctions. Skarsgård and Vanderham recognize this, but to Coogan and Moore, Maisie is little more than a legal accessory. The real sadness of this situation is profoundly palpable in the film’s third act.

WHAT MAISIE KNEW is a rarity, especially during this overblown summer movie season, a well done drama about a child finding their footing away from their petty parents. There may be one too many shots of Aprile looking blankly at behavior she can’t comprehend yet, but it’s overall portrait of a child caught between the unhealthy lifestyles of blood relatives and the unconditional care given by relative strangers is a work of beauty.

More later...

1 comment:

Oz said...

Excelente post Daniel, muchas gracias por compartirlo, da gusto visitar tu Blog.
Te invito al mio, seguro que te gustará:

Un gran saludo, Oz.