Movie Mom

whatmaisieknewShe has the face of a flower and she still believes that the world is an enchanted place that cannot hurt her.  She does not understand what is going on around her, but we do.

Her name is Maisie (the exquisite Onata Aprile).  She is seven and she lives in New York with her parents, a fading rock star named Susanna (Julianne Moore) and a British art dealer named Beale (Steve Coogan).  They are self-centered and feckless, and she does not yet realize that their hugs are more about themselves than about her.  They split up, and then, incapable of being alone and primarily to reassure themselves and spite each other, immediately take on new, very unwise partners.  Beale begins a romance with Maisie’s nanny, Margo (Joanna Vanderham).  And Susanna, feeling doubly betrayed, one-ups him by impetuously marrying a bartender named Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård).  This comes out when Lincoln, who Maisie has never really met, appears at her school to pick her up.  “I’m sort of like Maisie’s…stepfather,” he sheepishly tells the teacher.

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Maisie’s clothes often have fantasy elements, like a tiara, showing the gloss of fantasy she brings to her world — and the casual indulgence of the adults in her life. Moore’s neediness, as a woman who is losing her career, her romantic partner, and her child, is raw and affecting. Coogan gets a rare chance to show what a fine serious actor he can be. In one scene, he impetuously invites Maisie to go to England with him, and then immediately changes his mind. We see every thought on his face, including his chagrin at recognizing that he is betraying the daughter still young enough to believe in him.

This movie feels very much of this moment and has a very specific sense of place in its shabby chic New York settings.  But it is based on a book by Henry James written more than a century ago.  Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have a delicacy and sensitivity that gives their superb cast the chance to create complicated characters. They are not afraid to mix moments of humor with selfishness, heart-wrenching loss, and tragic choices.

Parents should know that this movie deals with themes of parental neglect and family dysfunction. It includes sexual references and non-explicit situations, drinking, strong language, and many poor choices.

Family discussion: What will happen to Maisie? What will she think of her parents when she gets to be a teenager? A grown-up? What has changed since Henry James wrote the book?

If you like this, try: “Careful, He Might Hear You”

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