To be honest, I don’t exactly rush out of the cinema after a movie to get the soundtrack. However, reading the synopsis of the upcoming film What Maisie Knew (a 21st-century adaptation of the 19th-century novel by Henry James) got me intrigued.
A rock star (Julianne Moore) and her art-dealer husband (Steve Coogan) shuffle their young daughter Maisie (Onata Aprile) back and forth as they get divorced. Maisie’s new stepparents (Alexander Skarsgard, Joanne Vanderham) take better care of her than her own parents, who care more about their careers.
The primary artist on What Maisie Knew is Nick Urata, frontman of DeVotchKa. The band featured heavily on the Grammy-nominated soundtrack to Little Miss Sunshine. Julianne Moore even brings her character into What Maisie Knew, singing on the final two tracks with American indie band The Kills.
The credit song by Lucy Schwartz, Feeling of Being, is a promising opener to What Maisie Knew. Schwartz assumes the persona of Moore’s character, sounding like a mother asking for understanding from her daughter. Feeling of Being’s catchy chorus, wispy vocals, delicate harmonies and sparse arrangement remind me of Stevie Nicks’ ballad “Beautiful Child” off Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk (1979).
Urata’s entirely instrumental contributions to What Maisie Knew begin with To The Beach and end with the title track. Most of them feature a memorable, lullaby-like theme of chimes and wordless “coo-ing” harmonies. This recurring theme conjures up a sense of wonder and is thus quite fitting for the film as its characters experience new beginnings.
The next few compositions by Urata are understated acoustic guitar pieces, with air-y piano notes, eerie keyboard sounds and more wordless harmonies. These reflect the film’s sensitive subject matter and the confusion that its characters are most likely feeling. Occasionally, an accordion would appear as if to invoke memories of past romance but it sounds deliberately out of place.
Susanna Says Goodbye sounds nothing like the other Urata contributions, with its sad, slow piano notes and strings. It is definitely the most striking track on What Maisie Knew, as it is likely a soundtrack to a devastating farewell scene in the film.
The two contributions by Julianne Moore and The Kills are raucous, filthy, fun rock with Moore’s seductive and mostly distorted vocals. Hook and Line seems to reflect the chaotic life of Moore’s character in the film. With its throbbing bass and guitars, and irresistibly catchy “all my lovers…take the train” hook, Night Train is reminiscent of Blondie’s Call Me.
What Maisie Knew is exactly what I expected and more. At 26 minutes, it is an emotionally charged yet hopeful, uplifting and easy listen. It is clearly an appropriate soundtrack to the film.