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What Maisie Knew (2012)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/13/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/12/2013
When you think of a movie adaptation of a novel written in 1897, what do you picture? An English costume drama? Perhaps something set in the crime-ridden streets of New York? Would you ever consider a film set in the present, with modern-day characters? Outside of 1897's Dracula and 1818's Frankenstein, we don't see many classic novels which are placed in contemporary settings for movies. But, that's the case with What Maisie Knew, which is based on a novel by Henry James. Can 19th Century ideas be translated into a modern drama.
What Maisie Knew focuses on Maisie (Onata Aprile), a little girl who is part of a very dysfunctional family. Maisie lives in New York City, and as the story begins, her parents have separated. Susanna (Julianne Moore) is a rock star who spends time on tour or hanging out with her friends. Beale (Steve Coogan) is a businessman of some sort and he is constantly flying to Europe. So, Maisie spends most of her time with her nanny, Margo (Joanna Vanderham). Susanna and Beale constantly miss pickup times on purpose, and Maisie rarely knows where she's supposed to be. Susanna enters a relationship with Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard), and this younger man is suddenly asked to look after Maisie. And Susanna and Beale continue to struggle with one another and with their personal relationships, Maisie is shuttled from one place to the next.
I've only read a synopsis of What Maisie Knew, but it appears that screenwriters Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright, along with directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have successfully taken the key ideas from the novel and placed them in today's world. As it is, there is actually very little story in What Maisie Knew. True, there are some minor plot twists as characters move in and out of one another's lives, but the primary themes arcs over the entire film -- Maisie is a pawn who is often looking for someone to care for her.
The filmmakers have managed to create a powerful film by focusing on some key elements. First of all, from the outset we care about Maisie. Despite her parent's apparent wealth, this is no spoiled brat -- Maisie is a genuinely sweet child who tries to get along with everyone. Is this manipulative? Of course it is, but we have to be on her side in order for the film to work. She is definitely a victim here, but she shows just enough self-sufficiency to avoid wallowing in it. Another important element is Susanna's personality. Having her be a musician was a stroke of genius, as she's very narcissistic. How much? She gets jealous when Maisie gets too much attention. Moore plays this in a very cool manner. She doesn't fly off the handle, but instead gets very cold and we feel for Maisie in these scenes. Just as Susanna is insensitive, Lincoln is portrayed as a nice guy who is in over his head. The film certainly knows what it is doing in the sense that it presents us with these characters and nudges us to have certain feelings about them. It also gets a big boost from the acting, which is great across the board. Again, Moore is very good at being cold, while Skarsgard shows an emotional side which we rarely get to see on True Blood. But, it's Aprile who is asked to hold the film together, as she is in nearly every scene, and the youngster truly holds her own against season actors.
What Maisie Knew comes very close to being a must-see drama until the ending. I won't give anything away here, but I felt that the ending was simply too syrupy sweet and wrapped things up too tightly. It can be argued that it left some questions about Maisie's future, but given how most of the movie didn't pull any punches and showed just how cruel people can be towards one another, the finale felt like some sort of Hollywood re-write. Still, that won't stop me from recommending the movie. I'm typically not a fan of minimalist dramas like this, but the film does a good job of exploring modern relationships and illustrates how often people put little thought into how they are going to raise their kids, or who they are going to let do that for them.
What Maisie Knew offers a good turtle anecdote on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Millennium Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at 23 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The image is a bit soft in some shots and the HD transfer magnifies the moments where the focus is allowed to slip. The depth is good, most notably in exterior shots. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For the most part, this is a very subtle track which focuses solely on dialogue. Having said that, we do get some noticeable stereo and surround effects from the many New York City streets scenes and the scene where Susanna's music plays definitely fills the speakers and brings in the subwoofer.
The What Maisie Knew Blu-ray Disc is short on extras. We get an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel. The Disc contains four DELETED SCENES which run about 7 minutes. Three of them offer yet more sad scenes from Maisie's life, while the fourth shows us the music video which we only glimpse in the movie.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.