Acting out a little too much.
Synopsis: A theatre director’s latest project takes on a life of its own when her young star takes her performance too seriously. (IMDB)
Starring: Helena Howard, Molly Parker, and Miranda July
Writer: Josephine Decker
Director: Josephine Decker
Rating: 14A (Canada)
Running Time: 94mins
Madeline’s Madeline is a difficult film to describe and definitely won’t be for everyone. Those who love will really love it and those who hate it will hate it will really hate it (consider this reviewer somewhere in the middle). The pieces are here and the film may be well-intentioned, however, it just could never quite put it all together. The story was of course about a presumably mentally ill teen girl named Madeline (Howard) whose illness afforded her a very unique perspective on her life and the world around her. Using that perspective, she found refuge from her dysfunctional life with her single mother Regina (July) in an improvisational theatre group ran by a woman named Evangeline (Parker).
Madeline was a hard character to follow but perhaps that was the point. It was unclear what she was thinking at any given time. Her mind went everywhere when finding inspiration for her performance in and out of the theatre group. Her thoughts were almost dream-like as she would always observe her surroundings. She also found inspiration from her relationship with her mother. They would argue as most teen girls and their mothers do. Madeline’s mental illness was implied and this may have played a part in it, however, the story could also have gone much deeper with their relationship as Madeline’s motivations lacked any context whatsoever.
The more compelling part of the story was the relationship between Madeline and Evangeline. Evangeline’s theatre group was unorthodox to say the least and seemingly lacked any reason, almost as scattered as Madeline was. It wasn’t necessarily clear what they were doing but Evangeline wanted Madeline to play a large part in it. She took a particular interest in Madeline, more importantly that unique perspective of hers. The two grew closer as Evangeline perhaps became the mother that Madeline wanted. Either way, she was far more interested in being with the theatre group than at home with her family. The story tried to develop Evangeline, however, it didn’t matter all that much.
Despite everything else, the performances were the best part of the film. Howard, in her first on screen role, makes an impression as Madeline and definitely earned all the acclaim she has received for her great performance. She was simply fearless here as the erratic teen. You may not understand the character but she was always compelling to watch. Parker and July as Evangeline and Regina respectively were good as well while not having to do all that much compared to Howard.
Overall, this was a decent film acting as an original look at mental illness whose erratic nature will be a little too much for many viewers. Helena Howard as Madeline still delivers a great performance but it was difficult to ever connect with the character and with the whole film revolving around said character, this becomes even more problematic. With that, it is clear to see to understand the somewhat positive reception its received, it just never quite worked, however, the film should be applauded for trying to do something different to begin with.