Scoring a highly respectable 88% on the Rotten Tomatoes scale, What Maisie Knew stars Julianne Moore as Susanna, a self-centered, unfiltered mother whose singing career—and parenting skills—are on the wane. Her partner Beale (Steve Coogan) fares no better in this department. Their wont is to air their dirty laundry in front of their 6-year-old daughter Maisie (Onata Aprile), a sensitive child whose silence speaks volumes. She loves her parents unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean she has to like being with them, especially when they use her as a pawn in their custody fight. Luckily, their capriciousness is Maisie’s saving; Beale hastily marries her beloved young Scottish nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham) shortly after the split. Susanna then ties the retaliatory knot with Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård), her handsome, lanky boyfriend. During this precarious period, Maisie is cared for by Margo, a doting Lincoln, a sympathetic waitress (for one scary night), and the doorman of her mother’s apartment building. It takes a village to raise a Maisie—New York City, in fact. The city serves as a backdrop for her various misadventures after her father flees to England and her mother goes on tour.
It is hard to assess what effect all the cursing and over-sharing have on Maisie. She’s only 6 years old, after all. Soon after Lincoln wins her daughter’s heart with his fun-loving attitude and reliable presence, however, Susanna is jealous. She uses him as a babysitter but cannot stand to witness someone else demonstrate the love she is unable to. Does she love Maisie? Yes, but at the same time she wishes to have nothing to do with her. She simply does not have it to give. Father Beale is too preoccupied with his business dealings to tend to the emotional needs of his daughter or his new wife, for that matter. You wait for some terrible incident to befall Maisie, whose daily existence is constantly threatened by the senseless machinations and manipulations of her parents. You have to wonder if Maisie’s reticence at home is a result of their pathetic, destructive tendency to treat her as a little adult.