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Madeline's Madeline

Steven - AV January 18, 2019

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As a semi-experimental film about a definitely-experimental theater troupe, Madeline’s Madeline sounds impenetrable and intimidating—pretty much the definition of eating your cinematic vegetables—but instead, it’s a deeply affecting story about a girl grappling with mental illness. That girl, Madeline (Helena Howard), tends to clash with her high-strung mother Regina (Miranda July), who means well but tends to make things worse as she struggles to understand her daughter’s feelings. Initially, Madeline finds an outlet in theater, losing herself in improvised characters and performances directed by Evangeline (Molly Parker). But as Evangeline pushes Madeline closer and closer to center stage, with elements of the girl’s life and personality incorporated into the production, the relationship begins to feel parasitic—Evangeline, like Regina, is not malicious yet she defines Madeline only by her illness and her hardship, shaping the girl’s story with little regard for the one ostensibly telling it.

 

The story and themes are easy enough to follow, though director Josephine Decker conveys all of it in ways meant to reflect Madeline’s state of mind. Some of it is fragmented, with abrupt cuts and a general absence of exposition and strange inserts like Madeline dressed as a sea turtle running toward the ocean, and everything is shot in close-up, as if to suggest the loud breathing and the blurring of the camera are due to proximity to the characters, like breath fogging up a lens. You feel the anxieties and the sensory overload as Madeline might, while she fights to cast away Regina’s Madeline and Evangeline’s Madeline in search of Madeline’s Madeline. For as much as the film is meant to reflect Madeline’s scattered state of mind, everything, from Howard’s outstanding performance to the peculiar cinematography, meshes together to form one of the most thoughtful films of 2018.

 

Overall Grade: A-

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