Maisie, played by Onata Aprile, is a six year old who lives in a Manhattan flat with her parents Beale (Steve Coogan), an art dealer, and Susanna (Julianne Moore), a rock music singer. The parents are always bickering with each other but not for long.
20 minutes into What Maisie Knew and the parents separated. They have always been away on business trips and when they are at home together, they are constantly fighting. Lucky for Maisie, her mother and father find new loves.
Maisie’s father ends up with her nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham). Susanna gets to marry bartender Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard). Maisie is able to cope with her new extended family and take care of herself. This is what the movie is all about.
The courts are deciding which parent should get custody of Maisie. Both parents don’t deserve her. This is an upsetting story and yet it manages to be light and hopeful. This is because Maisie is a calm, compassionate kid. She doesn’t feel any self-pity, which is remarkable considering her age. It is a testament to the remarkable resilience of kids today. Despite her terrible parents, Maisie is turning out to be a great child.
Maisie is innocent and adorable. She has a bewildered expression that can charm everyone. She can be part of the elite class of child performers who have been on movies. Julianne Moore plays the role of the stressed mother like how she did in her previous movies such as Children of Men, The Kids Are All Right and Savage Grace. Coogan is perfect as the always absent father. Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have made a movie that has the right combination of comedy, vulnerability and heart whelming story.
What Maisie Knew is based on a story written by Henry James. It has been updated to present day Manhattan. It feels like a fairy tale even if it is occasionally sentimental. It gives hope for the next generation.