As the film’s press kit notes, “directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, written by Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne, starring Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgård, Steve Coogan and Joanna Vanderham, introducing Onata Aprile as Maisie, the film is a contemporary reimagining of Henry James’ novel, What Maisie Knew tells the story of a little girl’s struggle for grace in the midst of her parents’ bitter custody battle. Told through the eyes of the title’s heroine, Maisie navigates this ever-widening turmoil with a six-year-old’s innocence, charm and generosity of spirit.
An aging rock star (Moore) and a contemporary art dealer (Coogan)—Susanna and Beale are too self-involved even to notice their neglect and inadequacy as parents; their fight for Maisie is just another battle in an epic war of personalities. As they raise the stakes by taking on inappropriate new partners, the ex-nanny Margo and the much younger bartender Lincoln (Vanderham and Skarsgård), the shuffling of Maisie from household to household becomes more and more callous, the consequences more and more troubling.
Always watchful, however, Maisie begins to understand that the path through this morass of adult childishness and selfish blindness will have to be of her own making.” What could easily have been treacly and sentimental here is rendered in bold, aggressive strokes, and while all the performances are standouts, Onata Aprile is the real center of the film, and she holds both the screen, and the audience’s attention, effortlessly.