I remember reading Henry James “What Maisie Knew” many years ago, perhaps in college. I’m not a good one for remembering books years later, plot lines and characters and so on. What I remembered from this book was, “Wow, these parents are assholes”. Fast forward to 2013, and there’s a film version. I was kind of scared to see it, because I remember being somewhat depressed by the novel, and I don’t always want to be depressed by films. Sometimes it’s OK, I guess. Then it got really good reviews, and my MIL went to see it and loved it, and I thought, OK, I’ll go. Well, it was apparently only in our local theater for about 15 minutes, because it was gone. So I waited another 15 minutes, and here it is, available on DVD at our local DVD rental place (I KNOW! We still sometimes go to the DVD rental place!). Excellent. Maya and I plopped ourselves down on the sofa to see what we could see.
If you’re not familiar with the story, “What Maisie Knew” is the story of a young girl, Maisie, who is unfortunate enough to be the child of two incredibly narcissistic and selfish parents. The background music of her childhood is her parents screaming at each other. She’s so used to it that it barely affects her. Finally, the parents decide they want out, and they divorce. That’s a relief, right? Well, it would be, except that the two of them only care about Maisie in as much as they can use her to hurt each other. It’s miserable.
There are some bright spots, however, in the form of Maisie’s brand new step parents. Dad marries the nanny, Mom marries the first guy she can find (Maisie hasn’t even met him before) to get back at Dad for marrying the nanny. The step parents are horrified by the behavior of their spouses with regards to Maisie, and they do step in and try to help her.
The actors in this film are all pretty amazing. I wouldn’t fault any of them. I don’t think I’ve disliked Julianne Moore before, but I did in this movie. The girl who played Maisie, Onata Aprile, was fabulous. Credit goes first to Henry James, for his telling of the story from a child’s point of view, and making her a believable character. Next, to the director, for not having Maisie be played as a spoiled brat or a wise-cracking world weary soul. Instead, she’s played somewhat stoically as a girl whose innocence has been battered and used as a weapon, whose childhood has been a wreck. She’s a little girl who doesn’t know everything, but she certainly knows the rules about her parents, and how to quietly tame the fires of their hatred. As when she is spending her first weekend with her dad, and mom sends her flowers. She knows the flowers will upset her dad, and that they were designed to do so. She throws them away. When her step-mom/nanny asks her why, she says, simply, “Dad’s allergic.”
Best of all, she is still able to trust adults and be happy in life. As long as the adults in question are not her parents.