TBT – What Maisie Knew (2013)

Recently one of my closest work friends left the business and I was put in charge of his leaving collection. This is mostly down to the fact that I’m fucking awesome at buying people presents. I’d love to be modest here but it’s the cold hard truth that I always find the perfect gift for any occasion. It’s a blessing and a curse. Once again, when the time came to present him with my offerings it went down incredibly well. Considering that much of our interaction at work came down to quoting Alan Partridge I knew what I had to do. Amongst other random shit, I managed to track down an Alan Partridge blazer badge, Alan’s big plate, some Kiss My Face brand soap and a chocolate orange with superficial damage to the box. Turns out there’s a lot of great shit out there for any fan of Steve Coogan’s most successful character.

The big curse of creating a character like Alan Partridge is that trying to do anything else is always going to be tricky. I admit that whenever I see Steve Coogan’s name associated with a film I always get a bit suspicious. I loved The Trip as much as the next person but I’m always disappointed when there’s a lack of Partridge-esque behaviour. Especially when he’s trying really hard to be a serious actor. There was nothing wrong with him in Philomenabut it just felt weird that he wasn’t being silly.
I also find it questionable when he’s cast as a Casanova because I just can’t see him as desirable. In the 2013 adaptation ofHenry James’ What Maisie Knew, Coogan plays a failing art dealer who marries his much younger nanny after his first marriage breaks down. Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s adaptation transports the novel to modern day New York City. Beale’s ex-wife is the dramatic and narcissistic rock star Susanna (Julianna Moore) and, as they take solace during their impending divorce, both neglect their young daughter Maisie (Onata Aprile). The story focuses on Maisie and her struggle to create some kind of family base.
What Maisie Knewis made thanks to it’s young star. The camera focuses on Maisie for the most of the narrative and Aprile is outstanding in the role. Maisie, at only 6 years old, is already world-weary thanks to her self-centred parents who treat her as something to hold over their ex. The film doesn’t quite get into the lessons Maisie learns about love and family in as much detail as the novel but it does paint a truthful and often uncomfortable portrait of modern family life.
With her parents ignoring her, it is down to Maisie’s new step-parents to take control of her well-being. Beale and Susanna both marry young and kind people (Alexander Skarsgård and Joanna Venderham) who love Maisie more than her biological family ever have. Skarsgård in particular has awesome chemistry with Aprile. In one sequence where Maisie and Lincoln, a bartender, have fun in the city I swear my uterus exploded it was so fucking adorable.
What Maisie Knewis an acidic portrait of a bitter divorce and modern life. It’s not quite as dark and bleak as the novel but it does well in it’s updated setting. The characters, whilst over-the-top and often grating, work perfectly within James’ original idea. There are some fantastic performances but many of the adult actors get lost within their one-note performance. Julianne Moore is a whirlwind but never really gets beyond the dysfunctional and egotistical rock star. It’s a disappointing turn from such a wonderful performance; though still not as shitty as The Lost World.

What Maisie Knewis beautifully shot and handled with great care by McGehee and Siegel. It often verges on the edge of, and occasionally well into, cloying sentiment. It is a successful adaptation that flourishes in its new setting. However, no matter how cute its lead actor may be, there is no escaping the sense that something was missing. That it just wasn’t as great as it could have been. 

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