Selfishly oblivious parents surround the powerful perspective of six-year old Maisie (Onata Aprile), trapped with limited ability to process a mammoth custody battle. In and out of courts, left at school after hours, and drifting between homes, Maisie is an inconvenient object, or at worst, a human pawn.
Smartly composed and edited into fragmented shards of information, What Maisie Knew is emotionally grueling, displayed within an open, airy framework. Scoring touches gently on emotive rhythms, sparsely composed to keep a brightness in place from Maisie’s coping viewpoint.
Maisie’s mother Susanna (Julianne Moore) is afflicted with emotional paranoia, impetuous in her cold responses. Her work addicted father is Beale, a desperate art dealer who chooses cautious wording is a subtle means of parental indifference in how their daughter is raised. Explosive arguments create sleepless nights as calculated shadows peer into a tossing Maisie seeking a quiet escape.
Potential rescue comes indirectly, a split custody decision laid bare as both parents remarry into vengefully charged younger relationships. Maisie’s rooted connection to a previous housekeeper Margo (Joanna Vanderham) creates a bridge between biological parents and new step father Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard) who wants nothing more than to be involved despite his now ambivalent wife.
Jockeyed between homes, hands, and caregivers, Maisie is labeled a problem by those who care for her, dumped at locations without so much as a hand-off during Maisie’s extremes. Aprile’s ridiculously effectual performance portrays a child wandering aimlessly, physically and mentally, with natural acceptance until she breaks. Likewise, Moore is sterling as a successfully traveling musician and minimal self-restraint.
Actionable events are often handled deplorably, creating sequences wherein Maisie’s grabbed memories are overtly negative with positive elements bland afterthoughts to egregious behavior. Henry James’ novel is brought into contemporary New York smoothly by co-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel, battles legally entangled in a patchy court system. Maisie is also locked at six-years old – with no indicators suggesting otherwise – creating a tumultuous, mercifully short lived year (or thereabouts) of fiction time.
While endured through the eyes of childhood, Maisie is vicious with its depiction of contentious adults, and never seeks commentary or reasoning. Maisie’s world just is. Events progress in suitably staggered fashion, unexpected lapses in care or narrow mindsets complicating a scenario in disconcerting upheaval. Maisie ends on what audiences should suspect is clean, freeing positivity, and not without giving its central character a meaningful voice where she otherwise had none.
What Maisie Knew’s visual scope is relatively mundane, although boasting natural saturation and appealing contrast. Dream like glows bloom into argumentative narrative, softening discordance visually. Light sources are ample and clean, brought to life via a satisfying film stock.
In the hands of Millennium’s AVC encode, grain is sharply resolved with limited patches of notable spikes. Maisie is on target for consistency, and that continues into a handful of faults. Of questionable origin are surprisingly high moments of source print damage, from scratches to briefly appearing specks. While nominal, their appearance on a film barely cracking six months old is disappointing.
Also blundered are black levels, failing during a critically heavy sequence in the final moments. Shifting blue, depth is squandered for murkiness. Blacks cannot match bursts of tightly lit contrast, creating an observed disconnect.
Maisie harnesses fidelity and sharpness, two saving elements which replicate deep fine detail in close, while naturally latching onto medium shots, even if they lose tightness. Even young Aprile displays facial texture via close-up, impressive for any disc. Into third act plot developments, Central Park becomes an extraordinary display of sharpness. Trees blossom within 1080p.
City ambiance and background party music pushes Millennium’s TrueHD track into forced labor, otherwise taking heed of consistent dialogue. New York is peppered with activity, the usual car horns and sirens. Music will dump lightly into the LFE or stereos, the latter camera location dependent.
Off-screen arguments will seep into stereos, although an echo will keep them broadened across the soundfield, while subsequently dimming directionality. Maisie’s world is designed flatly in terms of audio, punctuated with few elements of note. Inconsequential or not, audio mixing is competent.
Commentary is delivered by co-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel, a lonely member of the extras menu which only contains four deleted scenes, plus some trailers.
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