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American Women's Club of Hamburg

What Maisie Knew (Das Glück der großen Dinge)

USA 2012
Starts July 11, 2013

Directed by: David Siegel, Scott McGhee
Writing credits: Nancy Doyne, Carroll Cartwright, Henry James novel
Cast: Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgard, Onata Aprile, Johanna Vanderham, Steve Coogan
Length: 99 minutes

What Maisie Knew  (Das Glück der großen Dinge) What is it like to be a child in a modern patchwork family? In a nutshell that’s what this movie is about. The child, Maisie, is six years old and played by the endearing and touching child actress Onata Aprile. Her mother (Moore) is a rock singer whose glamour is fading and who struggles to keep up with the scene. While she appears to deeply care for her child, she seems to have little concept of what a child needs. And she is not in a position to sacrifice her career to meet those needs. Maisie’s father (Coogan) is an art dealer and bon vivant, witty and lively but also unable to make his daughter the focus of his life. Maisie’s parents are ostensibly successful with an elegant apartment in New York, but restless and dissatisfied nevertheless. Unable or unwilling to curb their career ambitions, they become embroiled in continuous arguments and conflicts of interest that end in their divorce. Each subsequently finds a new and much younger partner, Margo, the nanny (Vanderham) and Lincoln the bartender (Skarsgard). The new marriages are ones of convenience, and the new partners are increasingly instrumentalized as surrogate parents. But what at first seems a tragic turn of events proves to be a Godsend for Maisie. The surrogate parents are not as high fliers as her real ones. They are less wealthy, less ambitious, and more attentive to Maisie’s needs. And when they become fed up with being exploited by Maisie’s parents, they become both lovers and loving caregivers for Maisie.

The real highlight of this film is Maisie, played by Onata Aprile, who takes all the turmoil in her life with astonishing aplomb and manages to remain a charming, cheerful and curious child. Much of the film is depicted from her perspective, showing views of buildings, adults, toys and other furnishings at the eye level of a six year old. Julianne Moore is convincing as an aging diva. And Alexander Skarsgard is a wonderful lover. The story is compelling but not always completely convincing. Would a mother who loves her child really take off in the middle of the night on a tour on short notice and drop her child off at a bar without checking to see whether her bartender lover is on the job that night? Nevertheless, it’s great food for thought. It reminds me of discussions my students had with children in Hamburg about what it means to be related to someone. It seems that the core family with one mother, one father and a couple of genetically related siblings is a thing of the past. Like Maisie, many children nowadays learn at an early age to be open, flexible and self-sufficient in finding ways to have their emotional needs met without having a core family. ()

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