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by Jason Anderson
September 11, 2012 4:58 PM
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TIFF Capsule Review: 'What Maisie Knew'

The latest by the directorial team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel is a modernized take on Henry James’ novel about a sweet little girl who’s saddled with two of the world’s worst parents. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a pair less deserving of six-year-old Maisie (Onata Aprile) than Susanne (Julianne Moore), a temperamental rock singer, and Beale (Steve Coogan), an art dealer who’s even more self-involved. Since their selfishness is made perfectly clear in the opening scenes depicting the couple’s breakup, it’s a shame that McGehee and Siegel feel the need to reiterate the point so often as Maisie becomes increasingly neglected. The film’s only real tension is prompted by the question of whether Maisie’s connection to the two adults who actually care about her – Joanna Vandervam as the beloved nanny whom Beale hastily marries and Alexander Skarsgard as Susanne’s bartender beau – will be another casualty of this toxic situation. Mostly sticking with Maisie’s limited point of view, McGehee and Siegel are able to create some finely nuanced moments while avoiding any excesses of sentimentality. (Aprile is impressively poker-faced throughout.) Yet the film’s repetitiveness and slightness prevent Maisie’s woes from attaining a fully satisfying sense of scale and poignancy. Criticwire grade: B- [Jason Anderson]

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