What Maisie Knew

What Maisie Knew
    
Director: Scott McGehee , David Siegel
Cert: Club
Genre: Drama
Starring: Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Onata Aprile, Alexander Skarsgård
Running Time: 1 hr 33 mins

Maisie (Onata Aprile) is six years old and no stranger to domestic conflict. She potters around the family apartment, unscathed and mostly oblivious, while her rock-star mom (Julianne Moore) and feckless art- dealer father (Steve Coogan in his best dramatic turn to date) scream at one another. She’s stoical when daddy moves out and remains so when he insists on access to his daughter, despite the fact that he plainly has no interest in her, save as a marital weapon.

Soon enough, both parents have moved on and the little girl is, more and more often, thrust into the arms of her mother's tender-hearted new boyfriend, Lincoln (Skarsgård). Across town, daddy's increasingly exasperated girlfriend (Vanderham) – Maisie's former au pair – looks after the child while he tours Europe on ill-defined business.

With its thoroughly modern themes woven around selfish preoccupied parents and worldly, patient children, Henry James 1897 novel, What Maisie Knew, could not be more pertinent. And who better to transpose the material onto a contemporary New York setting than Scott McGehee and David Siegel, the dazzlingly brilliant duo behind Suture and The Deep End?

Working from a superbly subtle and inventive screenplay from Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne, the reliable co-directors compose in delicate narrative movements. Their titular leading lady – all four feet of her – matches her character for resourcefulness. Her affecting and natural performance leads the charge for an impeccable cast. Vanderham and Skarsgård put in career bests; Moore – and this is really saying something – hasn't been this impressive since Safe.


McGehee and Siegel have form with domestic thrillers. Here, they skilfully manipulate the viewer and the dramatic tone by pitching personal freedom against personal responsibility. It’s an epic a battle as we’ve seen all summer. Take that, Iron Man.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic