Sometimes in life, a person from outside of the family – teacher, nanny, neighbor – becomes a parent figure for a child, even though actual parents are physically present. What Maisie Knew is this kind of story. I also had a person like this.
My mother used to hire a house cleaner when I was little. We would discuss books, I would ask her meaning of adult jokes I overheard, we would tell each other scary stories of campfire variety and just hang out together while she was working. On the other hand, I don’t remember having a substantial conversation about anything with my mother, despite us living in one apartment. Nor do I remember waiting for her to come from work much.
In the film, the main difference between biological parents and ‘substitute’ parents is that later offer their full attention to the child, while former are always somewhere else, physically or mentally. Today I also stumbled upon an article in the New York Times touching this subject. Since quotes from important individuals make writing look more respectable, I’ll borrow one by Simone Weil: “Attention is the rares and purest form of generosity.”
I often lament about unrealistic “Hollywood endings” in movies. This applies to both major studio releases and small independent films and can happen in the beginning/middle of the film as well. There’s often a character or event which disturbs equilibrium and causes heroes to go on a journey. Recent examples include Ruby Sparks, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and (500) Days of Summer. Often they are stereotypes, like Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but they can be original and fresh too. The constant property is, they hardly ever happen in real life.
Without those extraordinary agents, cinema would be too much like real life: uninspiring, mundane and often sad. They enable pleasure of escapism, but they also create unrealistic expectations of life, the idea that something should happen and make things right. Relieving responsibility for your own life is the surest way to avoid change. But for once, I don’t mind. In this film, I am glad to have a Hollywood ending. Without it, the story would be too damn depressing.