Review: What Maisie Knew

Cert 12A
Four Stars
Maisie is six years old and already more emotionally mature than her flaky, dysfunctional parents.
Her saucer eyes are wise – and sad – beyond her years. We stumble with her from scene to scene, placed in her shoes, trying to work out exactly what her parents are playing at, and whether this unfamiliar bloke is her new dad.
Directors David Siegel and Scott McGehee avoid the obvious pitfall of pulling too hard on the heart-strings, allowing the compliment of astute performances to do the talking.
Julianne Moore, who plays Maisie’s ageing rock-star mother Susanna, seems to be competing with Nicole Kidman to see who can bag the most roles as drunk, dysfunctional older women (this seems like a sad indictment on the number of interesting roles available for actresses over a certain age). She has an angry, chaotic energy that clashes deliciously with her ex-husband Beale’s unflappable, smarmy facade. Steve Coogan doesn’t have to try too hard as Beale – his character is essentially the same as the fictionalised version of himself he plays in BBC production The Trip, which is no bad thing.
Despite the occasional “wait, really?” moment, Maisie’s world feels plausible; a place in which everyone is bruised but nobody broken.
It isn’t perfect: the fundamental inability of either parent to look after a child in even a rudimentary way sometimes makes the film feel like a public information commercial on family planning, and the burgeoning love interest between Beale’s nanny-come-wife Margo and Susanna’s bar-tender toy-boy Lincoln feels a little too neat.
But this is an adept, heartful little film that is emotionally engaging without a trace of saccharine.