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Based on the Henry James novel about a young girl forced to deal with the divorce and remarriages of her parents, the film, written by Nancy Doyne (Tales from the Darkside and Tales from the Crypt) and Carroll Cartwright (Dungeons & Dragons) and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel (the team behind The Deep End and Bee Season), marvelously captures the perspective of the story’s protagonist.

Maisie (Onata Aprile) is wide-eyed but far from innocent. Her parents — hard rocking mama Susanna (Julianne Moore) and fast-talking daddy Beale (Steve Coogan) — use her as a hot potato in a legal battle that alternately enrages and then bores them, which means Maisie ends up, more often than not, in the care of her step-parents — child-like bartending Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård) and former nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham). Infuriating and manipulative, What Maisie Knew sneaks past our defenses thanks to Aprile’s poised dramatic performance, which never yanks the heartstrings. McGehee and Siegel knew they had a real professional holding the center here, so they wisely let her work her magic. (R) Grade: A-