|The Frankfurt-Tipp rating:|
|Original title:||What Maisie knew|
|Direction:||Scott McGehee & David Siegel|
|Production country:||USA 2012|
|Running time:||Approx. 102 min.|
There is little left of the former happiness of their marriage for rock icon Susanna (Julianne Moore) and British art dealer Beale (Steve Coogan). Beale spends most of his time at the office or abroad, and as soon as he's home, sparks fly between him and his temperamental wife. The one who suffers is their shared six-year-old daughter Maisie (Onata Aprile). Although their nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham) tries to distract the child as best she can, Maisie is drawn deeper and deeper into the arguments. The situation escalates when the parents separate and a custody battle ensues. While Beale, who starts a relationship with Margo, has the better cards in court, Susanna tries to improve her chances of getting custody by an impromptu marriage to bartender Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard). Maisie is pulled back and forth and doesn't feel truly happy until she is left in the care of her new partners by her parents for professional reasons. With Lincoln and Margo, the girl experiences happiness and lightheartedness, but this cannot last.
The Happiness of Great Things is an adaptation of the novel Maisie by Henry James. The story of the novel, published in 1897, has been moved to contemporary New York du otherwise modernized as well. Filmmakers Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who have worked together as a directing duo since the 1990s, have turned the story into a very sensitive family tale told from the perspective of a child of divorce. They largely eschew the affected tone usually associated with such stories, preferring to rely on realism, understated irony and honest character sketching.
It's precisely this that benefits the film immensely. Easily, the parents played by Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan could have degenerated into clichéd decals. But the script by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright and its excellent realization by the two directors show just not only the character flaws of these characters, but also the great love for their child, which, however, is sidelined by too big egos and broken self-esteem. On the other side are Lincoln, wonderfully played by Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood), and Margo, who, if they got together, would make the perfect parents for a child like Maisie. The production also protects these characters and their development from any form of kitsch or cliché.
Even though the story at a certain point heads absolutely predictably towards its sentimental but not overly cheesy finale, the film feels pleasantly out of touch and unconventional. This is the best American independent cinema, striking the perfect balance between entertainment and ambition, between humor and drama. But the really big plus point, through which The Happiness of Big Things can also leave a lasting impression, is the young lead actress Onata Aprile, who delivers a truly great performance with great talent and a refreshing naturalness beyond the cuteness that is too exaggerated in many children. You can see how much Maisie longs for harmony and how she slowly but surely threatens to lose her childlike lightheartedness due to her parents' quarrels. It's a great performance that rivals those of her adult co-stars.
The Happiness of Big Things handles a not-so-nice subject in a very nice way, turning a divorce drama into a genuinely feel-good movie without watering down the subject matter itself or trivializing the consequences for children. Anyone who appreciates American program cinema should not miss this very special family drama. Absolutely worth seeing
An article by Frankfurt-Tipp