Madeline’s Madeline is a one-of-a-kind. I can’t remember the last time a movie was this uncomfortable yet so rewarding and fulfilling.
Sensational newcomer Helena Howard stars as the titular Madeline, a meek stage performer who finds her calling through unconventional, improvisational character work under the direction of auteur Evangeline (Molly Parker). Madeline, without much hesitation, occupies every bit of negative space around her and throws herself into roles ranging from domestic animals to more abstract representations of literal emotions. Evangeline, also playing the part of a mentor, champions for the young actor no matter what Madeline’s cautious mother might think. Mom is played by filmmaker and experienced performance artist Miranda July. Playing the most subdued role in the film, July is fascinatingly enigmatic as Madeline’s support, and the appearance acts as a neat easter egg for film aficionados.
Flames artist Josephine Decker, the director/co-writer of Madeline’s Madeline, works with many themes and characterizations to tell Madeline’s story. For example, Decker often projects the film’s narrative from the artist’s personal perspective, illustrating her aspirations as they fight against her mental illness. Madeline’s lurid visions of those around her propose theories and questions about the legitimacy of genuine personalities. Meanwhile, to keep her integrity for cutting edge theatre, Evangeline exploits Madeline for material; igniting an interesting debate about whether imitations can be justified as original art. Even the dynamic relationship between Madeline and Evangeline grows in layers as they become more aware of each other’s intentions.
Madeline’s Madeline may sound overwhelming (and it is), but this revelatory film deserves high praise for being uncompromising when challenging its audience.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie