A remarkable central performance from Onata Aprile as Maisie makes this a film to savour for all its heartbreaks.
In a modern-day New York reinterpretation of the Henry James novel, Maisie is stuck in the middle of a bitter custody battle between her mum and dad, both of them possibly just about OK as human beings, but both of them absolutely appalling as parents.
Julianne Moore is faded rock-star mum Susanna for whom Maisie is never much more than an inconvenient afterthought – something Susanna guiltily acknowledges with every gush of erratic, wobbly affection before disappearing off on her next tour.
Dad Beale – another in an increasingly-impressive roll call of straight acting roles from Steve Coogan – is a distracted art dealer who fights bitterly to retain his slice of Maisie but then thinks nothing of disappearing abroad for weeks on end. What makes it all so mesmerising and indeed heartbreaking is that Onata Aprile gives us a Maisie who simply seems to take it all in her stride as she is shunted from one place to another, often forgotten, often waiting without having a clue who’s coming to pick her up. Rarely does she show any sign of distress, showing a degree of self-possession which makes the adults’ behaviour appear all the more awful.
But this is a film which also offers hope, suggesting that paternity of a kind might just lie in the right person at the right time rather than in the laps of neglectful parents.
To help them with the childcare duties they generally abandon, Susanna and Beale remarry, foisting Maisie onto their new partners whom they don’t even seem to particularly care for. The solace for Maisie is that Beale’s new wife Margo (Joanna Vanderham) and Susanna’s new husband Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård), for all their unconventionality, increasingly seems precisely the people she ought to be with – if only they could somehow get it together.
Deeply affecting throughout, it’s all quite beautifully done.