‘What Maisie Knew’: divorce through the eyes of a child

Maisie knows how to tip the pizza delivery man. She knows how to ride a bike. She knows how to win at Monopoly and tic-tac-toe. She knows how to build sand castles and how to put icing on a cake. Maisie knows her Mommy and Daddy love her. More importantly, though, Maisie knows how to keep secrets.

That’s a pertinent skill to survive her parents’ custody battle for her in Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s 2012 film “What Maisie Knew.” Based on an 1897 serial novel by Henry James, “What Maisie Knew” shows what a messy divorce looks like through the eyes of a precocious six year old (played by Onata Aprile).

Screenwriters Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright seamlessly update James’ script, placing Maisie in modern-day New York City. Her mother, Susanna (Julianna Moore), is a touring musician; her father, Beale (Steve Coogan), a traveling businessman.

Through Maisie’s eyes we see kites and boats and turtles and swing sets. We also see adults fighting, people crying, and strangers’ beds. McGehee and Siegel compose a poignant film, showing how a divorce can negatively impact a child’s life.

Maisie knows not to tell Mommy when her Daddy visits the apartment. She knows that her Daddy likes her babysitter Margo (Joanna Vanderham). She knows that her Mommy married a bartender named Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård) to try to obtain full custody of her. She knows her Mommy sent her flowers that her Daddy threw out.

It’s amazing what children see when we think they aren’t looking.

“What Maisie Knew” was directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel and written by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright, based on Henry James’ novel.