Review: While most of us are battling superhero fatigue on the silver screen, it’s refreshing to see filmmakers embrace avant-garde filmmaking tackling complex issues as we see in Madeline’s Madeline. The film’s name and the surreal opening shot where the nurse reassures the protagonist what she’s experiencing is a metaphor gives the theme away. The film, at its core, although masquerading as a coming of age drama is, in fact, a critique on filmmaking. It’s about who the creator of the story is – the director or the person whose story is being told. The movie is also about how city-dwellers can be quite alone despite being surrounded by people, and director Josephine Decker does manage to capture life in New York City and its idiosyncrasies quite well.
Miranda July plays her part well as the struggling mother of two, who despite her best efforts, doesn’t quite comprehend what her teenage daughter is going through. However, the star of the film is undoubtedly Helena Howard who delivers a captivating performance as Madeline, a performer in an experimental theatre troupe, who is suffering from mental illness and grappling with her identity. Madeline channels her inner turmoil and takes method acting to the next level as she becomes one with the characters she plays – most times it’s a cat, and sometimes a pig or a tortoise. Molly Parker breathes life into Evangeline, an insecure woman who serves as Madeline’s secondary maternal figure and is out of her depths as her director.
She ultimately takes advantage of her trust when she appropriates Madeline’s tale about her rocky relationship with her mother as her own. Both the cinematography and the background score excellently evoke a dream-like surrealistic vibe that’s required for this film to work. Although, I feel a tighter aspect ratio would have worked better here.
As with all experimental films, this one won’t appeal to everyone, barring the most passionate of cinephiles. And despite the muddled and incoherent ending which takes away from the viewing experience, it will always serve as the launchpad for Helena Howard who, I’m sure will continue to display this stunning mastery of her craft in the future movies she’s in. My rating is 3.5/5.
Who should watch this: If you’re tired of ‘heroes’ running around in spandex on celluloid, and like intelligent cinema with fabulous acting or if you crave films like The Tree Of Life, Under The Skin, Upstream Color or 2001: A Space Odyssey, definitely do not miss this one.