Trailer Face-Off: What Maisie Knew vs. Much Ado About Nothing

Published March 18, 2013

Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: What Maisie Knew vs. Much Ado About Nothing, two cinematic adaptations of classics about privileged people in breaking romances.PremiseIt’s not surprising that people have been writing texts about dysfunctional relationships forever, and both What Maisie Knew and Much Ado About Nothing attempt to adapt older stories about divorce, infidelity, and general disintegration into a modern context. What Maisie Knew is based on an 1897 Henry James novel of the same name, and focuses on a wealthy, self-involved couple (Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan) in the midst of a divorce, who use their precocious daughter, Maisie (Onata Aprile) as a pawn in their legal battles. Much Ado About Nothing is Joss Whedon’s Shakespeare adaptation, updating the Bard’s famous comedy (but using the original script) to a circle of modern yuppies involved in infidelity, backstabbing, and general tomfoolery. Advantage: What Maisie Knew

Location, location…In terms of setting, What Maisie Knew treads familiar territory: the film unfolds amongst the stomping ground of the upper echelon of New York’s creative elite. We get lots of views of sprawling SoHo lofts with open floor plans, and preschools where admission is as competitive as at Harvard. There’s a portion that takes place at a beach house, presumably in the Hamptons. Much Ado About Nothing is filmed, notably, entirely in black and white, and the setting is rather anonymous for Hollywood, a well-manicured California mansion with a hot tub and sprawling grounds. This location is the actual home of director Joss Whedon, who filmed the movie (which he had long considered his “passion project”) in 12 days on a limited budget, in lieu of going on a vacation for his 20th anniversary.Advantage: Much Ado About Nothing

StarsWhat Maisie Knew certainly does not skimp on big names, featuring the likes of Julianne Moore, as Susanna, Maisie’s well-meaning but selfish mother. Moore has continuously demonstrated her ability to play mother characters in turmoil (See: The Hours, The Kids are All Right, The Forgotten, Far From Heaven), so the casting seems especially apt. Steve Coogan takes a break from his generally comedic roles to play Beale, the overwrought art-dealer father, and True Blood hunk Alexander Skarsgård appears as Lincoln, Susanna’s new beau following her divorce. Seven-year-old Onata Aprile is the real show-stealer, though, with a toothy smile and believable confusion at her extremely trying, adult reality. Much Ado About Nothing showcases the Shakespearean talents of many actors who have appeared in Whedon’s previous films and television shows: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof and Emma Bates, to name a few.Advantage: What Maisie Knew

Dysfunction FactorWritten at the end of the 16th century, Much Ado About Nothing has become an exemplary benchmark of the playful banter and wordplay that often surrounds domestic disputes (see: all romantic comedies, ever), and the 2013 version faithfully adapts the comedy of errors, including classic cases of mistaken identities and a notably archaic century view of female sexuality. What Maisie Knew is based off of a more contemporary piece of literature, and also takes more liberties in adaptation; the film seems markedly modern while still dealing with classic tropes of divorce and infidelity (the father has run off with the nanny). What Maisie Knew‘s power seems to hold true to James’ novel in that the movie documents a multitude of adults who, in becoming enveloped in their own drama and petty selfishness, have forgotten to love and nurture their child.Advantage: What Maisie Knew

The VerdictMuch Ado About Nothing is definitely a treat for fans of both Buffy and Shakespearean comedies (and honestly, who doesn’t fall into one of those categories?). However, we love a good breakout child star, and we got a little teary watching the trailer for What Maisie Knew, so we’re going to have to grab some Kleenex and go with that.Winner: What Maisie Knew

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