What Maisie Knew presents a unique perspective on domestic drama, telling the story of a bitter divorce and strained custody battle through the eyes of seven-year-old Maisie. This point-of-view keeps the film from feeling conventional despite its well-worn subject matter, but it also keeps the audience from gaining a deep insight into its characters.
The adult actors, particularly Julianne Moore and Alexander Skarsgård, do great work (it’s hard to think of a role Moore hasn’t knocked out of the park). The actress playing Maisie, Onata Aprile, doesn’t play any false notes but, equally, she’s largely opaque; a truly exceptional young actress is needed to convey the complex emotions, and sadly Aprile, while good, isn’t that good.
The story is a tender reflection on the damage wrought on children by distant parents and divorce, painted in bold primary colours. There’s some realistic emotional complexity dwelling within the conflict Maisie’s parents encounter between their careers and their daughter – the former the victor more often than not – however, unfortunately, the underlying dichotomy feels overly simplistic: love: good, work: bad. Perhaps it’s merely the half-heard conversations that prevent a deeper understanding, pulling the film towards a neat ending that’s – perhaps unsurprisingly – a little childish.