I’ve always counted my blessings when it comes to my parents. Fortunately for me, my parents are still together. In a world where divorce is becoming more and more common, I’m always thankful that my parents are still married. I do have many friends and know many people whose parents are divorced and it honestly breaks my heart. I don’t think anyone should ever have to endure something like that and What Maisie Knew is one of the most brutal looks at divorce, through the eyes of a young girl who doesn’t understand what’s going on as the world changes around her.
Based off of the 1897 novel by Henry James, What Maisie Knew gives us the prospective of a parents divorce through the eyes of their daughter, Maisie (Onata Aprile). Her mother, Susanna (Julianne Moore), is a rock star who is finally beginning to get more shows. Her father, Beale (Steve Coogan), is an art dealer. The more time Beale spends away and the more time Susanna is off recording, their relationship is torn further apart. Maisie, finds herself right in the middle of the divorce, as her parents are both battling for custody and are both bad mouthing the other.
With her parents both being gone so often, Maisie is watched by Margo (Joanna Vanderham), whom takes care of her and takes the time to play with her. After her parents divorce files through, Maisie begins the dreadful process of going back and forth between parents every few days. Each parent struggles to make time for her and Maisie is often left alone sometimes, as she waits for one of her parents to pick her up. To keep Maisie taken care of, Beale winds up marrying Margo a few months after the divorce, which only infuriates Susanna more, ultimately making her marry a bartender named Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård).
As Susanne goes off to tour and Beale goes off to Europe for work, Margo and Lincoln find themselves parenting and raising Maisie. At first, they avoid one another, due to their spouses evil spats about the others. Eventually, both Lincoln and Margo realize that they care more for Maisie than her parents do, so they begin to act like a family. While they may not be her actual parents, Maisie still loves them and is happy to be cared for and played with.
As you would expect them to act, Susanna and Beale aren’t overly thrilled that their new spouses are caring for their daughter. One the one hand, Susanna is trying to bring Maisie on tour with her, even though she won’t be able to spend any time with her. On the other hand, Beale wants to take Maisie with him to Europe so that he can relocate for his job. Both options offer Maisie time to spend with her real parents, but both options will also leave her alone most of the time. Unfortunately, her parents can’t seem to realize this, as they’re too wrapped up in their own lives.
In the end, the decision is left up to Maisie, as to whom she’ll stay with and for how long she’ll stay with them. It’s completely unfair for her to have to choose sides, but then again, it’s unfair for her to be in this situation in the first place. The harsh reality of this film, is that not everyone is meant to be a parent. The little time and effort that Susanna and Beale put into raising Maisie is evidence enough that this reality is unfortunately true. However, this film also shows that other people, who aren’t biological parents, can still raise and love a child as much as parent possibly can.
This movie is very emotional and filled with some very powerful and heart breaking scenes. Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan both deliver great performances as reluctant parents wrapped up in their own lives, but it’s Skarsgård and Vanderham who steal the show. Their transformation from simple caretakers into parents is astounding. At anytime, they could have left Maisie because she’s not their actual daughter and because they’re not actually together. Instead, they learn the values of love and care through Maisie and one another and begin to raise a family of their own. Seeing the joy in Maisie’s eyes as she has parents to play with and be there for her, is truly a beautiful sight.
One thing that this film does really well, is that it emphasizes the importance that a non-biological parent can still love and care for a child. I know many people with Stepfathers or Stepmothers who have practically raised them. Their biological father or mother may or may not be around, but these Stepparents have come into their lives and have assumed a duty that really matters. I often feel as though Stepparents don’t often get the respect and thanks that they should, especially those that enter midway through a child’s life. This movie and those parents really give you hope that there are still some amazing people and parents out there.
The only things I thought that this film could have improved upon would be giving more screen time to Coogan’s character and possibly getting to know more of what Maisie thinks. We see a lot of Moore’s character and she’s developed well, but we don’t see much of Coogan’s and I think that would have helped the film a bit more. Also, I know that the film is to be seen from Maisie’s perspective, but it would have been nice to hear more from her, instead of just seeing her reactions.
Other than those couple of issues I had, this film is pretty fantastic. It will take you on an emotional roller-coaster of highs and lows. You’ll feel your heart being tugged at and you might even cry at a few scenes. What Maisie Knew is a film that anyone can watch and relate to, regardless of whether or not their parents are separated. It hits on all the right levels and is truly a film that will touch you. Just keep in mind, that there are parts of this movie that are almost unwatchable, but it’s scenes like those that make this an even more powerful movie.
What Maisie Knew Trailer