Secretly Awesome - What Maisie Knew (2013)

Submitted by maxfischar on February 13, 2014 - 11:16pm


Normally I reserve this column for older, forgotten films, or those which I feel weren't given their due: great '90s thrillers, like Breakdown, to unexpected delights, like Young Sherlock Holmes. But the intention has always been to highlight films that deserve to be part of the conversation, but generally are not. Which is where What Maisie Knew comes in, which is easily one of the best films of 2013.

Maisie follows a little girl, Maisie, caught in the middle of a custody battle between her parents, a touring rock star (Julianne Moore) and a traveling businessman (Steve Coogan). The film opens with a break-up and Coogan's swift marriage to the nanny (Joanna Vanderham). Though their relationship seems genuine, Moore's character sees it as a ploy to get a leg up in the custody hearings, and marries a friend (Alexander Skarsgard) for appearance's sake.

Maisie is full of interesting dynamics and ethical quandaries. Everyone has good intentions which are overcome by selfishness, disillusioning two parents to the point at which they simply want to win, rather than do what is best for their child, losing her in their own self-serving pettiness. Despite all of these negative characteristics, directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel never present these parents as one-dimensional characters, but rather as two people just trying in their own ways to do their best.

Ultimately Maisie gets bounced around between two households, and due to her parents always being away she essentially gets raised by their spouses, who often get stuck with her on a moment's notice and develop a deep bond with her. And because each of their lives get in the way of taking care of her at times, they wind up leaning on each other for help, and develop their own intimacy, furthering the labyrinthine dynamic between all of these people. These plot developments may sound predictable, and they are, but that's because the film progresses in such a way that this is really the only path it can take, and it's a fascinating journey.

The most amazing thing about the film is that all of this is told from Maisie's perspective. The adults come and go, but we see everything through her eyes, understanding so much of what she doesn't about the complexity of human relationships and emotional entanglements, so despite a seeming lack of screen-time for the other four characters, we still get a complete portrait of the lives of five people and the way they're brought together and torn apart.

Maisie does right what so many films do wrong: it keeps its focus small and adheres strictly to the rules it sets for itself, resulting in a beautiful film of remarkable subtlety and honesty. It's a quiet masterpiece, and it would be such a crime to miss it.

Feature by Bradley Redder of Denzel, WA. Have a Secretly Awesome suggestion that you'd like to propose? Or have a past or present entry you'd like to argue about? Feel free to e-mail Brad at