SUNDANCE: Madeline's Madeline Directed by Josephine Decker
Starring Helena Howard, Jamal Batts, Miranda July and Molly Parker
Published Jan 25, 2018Over the last decade, Josephine Decker has built a sturdy reputation among cinephiles for her thoughtful body of work. Madeline's Madeline is another worthy entry in her oeuvre, though it's certainly not for everyone.
Newcomer Helena Howard stars as Madeline (and this certainly won't be the last time we see her — she's exquisite), a teen girl navigating a strained relationship with her mother (Miranda July, excellent as always). She channels her emotions and mental anguish into experimental immersive theatre rehearsals with auteur Evangeline (Molly Parker), and the two form a strong bond. Eventually, however, Madeline's problems catch up with her as Evangeline's experimental process starts to crack.
Madeline's Madeline is expertly acted, and Ashley Connor's audacious cinematography is something to marvel at. However, depending on one's own preferences, the film begins to feel like a trap — the highly experimental camerawork begins to overpower the narrative, exhausting the viewer.
Further, like cilantro or Hamilton, experimental theatre is a love-it-or-hate-it practice. Decker, who has a background in performance art, had her actors train at a modern clowning college ahead of the film's production, and the result is a group of people who prance, whoop, dance and make animal noises at odd times throughout. If you've ever cringed at a fringe festival, you likely won't be able to handle Madeline's Madeline.
That said, the film is a respectable achievement and a worthwhile conversation starter about the ethics of art exploiting mental illness. (Bow and Arrow)