Director: Josephine Decker
MPAA Rating: NR
Run Time: 93 Minutes
One thing that can’t be understated about Josephine Decker’s experimental coming-of-age film Madeline’s Madeline is that star Helena Howard is primed to blow up in the industry. Her performance alone – with its nuanced emotional transformations, coupled with the complexities of an individual at odds with her own mind – is nothing short of stunning.
Moreover, the storytelling techniques Decker employs to deliver this fascinating journey into the mind of a troubled girl overflow with creativity. Howard plays the titular role of Madeline, an introspective 16-year-old who’s a member of an experimental performance art group that is led by Evangeline (Molly Parker), who develops an odd, maternal relationship with the girl.
Miranda July plays Madeline’s supportive, yet overwhelmed, mother, who is a creative person in her own right but whose struggles to remain close to Madeline continuously falter, as Madeline starts to become closer to Evangeline and more immersed into her performance. Eventually, Madeline begins performing so well in the class that Evangeline begins slowly altering their piece to revolve around Madeline and her relationship with her mother, causing the rift between the two to grow stronger, while gradually unhinging her from reality.
It’s a coming-of-age film in the loosest sense of the term in that it deals with typical teenage turmoil, mostly centering around the relationship between Madeline and her mother and Madeline’s budding fascination with sex, but where it deviates is with the character of Madeline herself being anything but a typical teenager.
This is perfectly exemplified within the first few moments of the film with Madeline roleplaying as a cat, crawling around the New York apartment she shares with her mother. She completely loses herself in her performance, embodying this cat, crawling around on the furniture and begging for affection from her mother. This complete dedication to the craft forebodes bad things to come, as Evangeline pushes Madeline to look to herself for her next role.
This is the type of role that seems tailor-fit to Howard, making it unimaginable that anyone else could become this character. The entire movie is formed around her performance, from the other actors spending their time reacting to her to the fantastic cinematography, all while capturing the intimacy and chaos of the world Madeline inhabits. When you sit down in the theater, you’re a visitor in Madeline’s world, and though it may be scary at times, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.