I just saw the movie “What Maisie Knew,” based on the novel by Henry James about the impact on a child of the divorce and remarriages of her self-involved parents. As every reviewer has mentioned, the young actor playing the title character is a gem. Unburdened by the phony precocity of too many kid roles in movies and on TV, she sounds like a normal, smart six-year-old – but with the ability, innate or learned, to engage with just a look. You care for her, you root for her, and, if you are one who cries in movies, you will almost certainly do thatfor her.
But the parents are a different matter, and here is where I am not sure the movie succeeds. The mother and father are such monstrous narcissists that I don’t think any but the most self-critical divorcing parent will see any hint of himself or herself in their characters. I’m not sure they should – [SPOILER ALERT] I don’t think I have come across parents who, late for a business meeting, would drop a six-year-old off on the sidewalk on a busy street in Manhattan with no one there to meet her. Given that we’re not living in the time of Henry James – whose story covered largely unexplored territory – the subject of divorce is entirely too familiar. Its retelling should say something new and true. Does this?