Entertainment » Movies

Madeline's Madeline

by Greg Vellante
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Aug 10, 2018
'Madeline's Madeline'
'Madeline's Madeline'  

"It's only a metaphor" is a mantra repeated quite often in Josephine Decker's "Madeline's Madeline," a peculiar and profound work that very well may all just be an allegory. But despite the film's bizarrely experimental and dreamlike bookends, there's a midsection of strikingly honest character study that explores performance art, mental illness, maternal relationships and more.

The film follows Madeline (newcomer Helena Howard), a precocious 16-year-old who spends her days tossed between school (which she hates, and we never see), a strained relationship with her mother, Regina (Miranda July), and the after-school performance group she loves, which is led by an overeager instructor named Evangeline (Molly Parker). Much of the film lies in the juxtaposition between Madeline's abusive rapport with Regina and her overbearing affinity for Evangeline, relationships that bob and weave between various emotions as the story evolves.

Evangeline is crafting a performance with her group. First, it's about prison, but the content switches once Madeline confides in Evangeline regarding an all-too-lifelike dream she had about burning her mother's hand with an iron after a particularly aggressive war of words. Instead of addressing the issue at hand, Evangeline slowly manipulates both Madeline and her story into performance, creating a powerful rumination on the selfishness of vicarious art.

While July and Parker give inspired and rich performances here, Howard is an unstoppable spitfire as Madeline. She teeters between aggressive emotions and subtle intricacies, a bipolar performance that perhaps mirrors Madeline's mental illness that is only ever truly discussed as background noise. There are plenty of enigmas in the film, but the fact that Howard's performance is among the best of the year isn't one of them. It's a rare pleasure to see a breakthrough role so fully realized. Howard is going to be a star.

Decker's direction is abrasive yet calculated, using sound design especially as a vessel for the movie's rough themes to funnel through. Visually rich as well, the film is constantly bringing us in and out of Madeline's perspective through close-ups and POV shots, creating an experience that is at once intimate and haunting. And through a collection of experimental imagery, the film covers a fair amount of ground without becoming longwinded.

By the end of this film, I was certainly bewildered, but a second visit firmly planted my feet in this movie's court. It's a work with a language all its own, and it unabashedly screams its cinematic sermon with vibrant, loud lungs. And it's worth listening to, as the movie explores fascinating themes of secondhand experiences and performance imitating life in the same ways Charlie Kaufman's masterpiece "Synecdoche, New York" did back in 2008. "Madeline's Madeline" is no masterpiece, but it's among one of the boldest films I'll likely see this year.

Madeline's Madeline

Madeline has become an integral part of a prestigious physical theater troupe. When the workshop's ambitious director pushes the teenager to weave her rich interior world and troubled history with her mother into their collective art, the lines between performance and reality begin to blur. The resulting battle between imagination and appropriation rips out of the rehearsal space and goes through all three women's lives.


Runtime :: 94 mins
Release Date :: Aug 24, 2018
Language :: Silent
Country :: United States


Madeline :: Helena Howard
Evangeline :: Molly Parker
Regina :: Miranda July
Nurse, KK :: Okwui Okpokwasili
Santos, Cousin Elmer :: Felipe Bonilla
Laura :: Lisa Tharps
Assistant Max :: Sunita Mani
George :: Curtiss Cook
Jaime :: Reynaldo Piniella
Kaila :: Myra Lucretia Taylor


Director :: Josephine Decker
Screenwriter :: Josephine Decker
Screenwriter :: Donna di Novelli
Producer :: Krista Parris
Producer :: Elizabeth Rao
Executive Producer :: Michael Decker
Executive Producer :: Peter Gilbert
Executive Producer :: Edwin Linker
Executive Producer :: Matthew Perniciaro
Executive Producer :: Michael Sherman
Executive Producer :: Joe Swanberg
Cinematographer :: Ashley Connor
Film Editor :: Harrison Atkins
Film Editor :: Josephine Decker
Original Music :: Caroline Shaw


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