Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Movie Review: "Madeline's Madeline" (2018)

Director: Josephine Decker
Year: 2018
Rating: UR
Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

An aspiring actress and mentally unbalanced teen named Madeline has her issues appropriated by her acting workshop teacher, which only serves to further her psychosis.

Helena Howard Madeline's Madeline 2018
"Do you feel safe around your mother?" (Image Source)
Just remember, like the very first line of the movie says, it's all a metaphor. "Madeline's Madeline" is written and directed by Josephine Decker, who has helmed other projects as "Thou Wast Mild and Lovely" and "Butter on the Latch." This story revolves around a 16-year-old teen named Madeline (Helena Howard). She is an aspiring actress who attends an acting workshop that seems heavily focused on method acting...not just acting like a cat but actually becoming the cat. Jared Leto would be so proud. Madeline's teacher Evangeline (Molly Parker) has taken a special interest in her, and Madeline seems to have put her full faith and trust in Evangeline. As she learns more about Madeline's life, Evangeline integrates more and more elements that trigger Madeline's preexisting psychosis, mainly her problems involving her neurotic mother Regina (Miranda July). This turns her once safe acting space into a mentally taxing experience, or at least that's what happens on-screen. It probably isn't what the movie's actually about because, once again, it's just a metaphor.
Helena Howard Molly Parker Madeline's Madeline 2018
"What are we making?" (Image Source)
We have no problem with experimental filmmaking. We have seen and enjoyed numerous movies that have tested the limits and boundaries of filmmaking. That being said, being unique and different doesn't automatically make a movie "good." In fact, anyone who has experimented with anything will tell you that most experiments fail. We believe that's the case for "Madeline's Madeline," though we're almost certain others will disagree. Sure, we could have discussions about what director Josephine Decker was trying to convey. We could debate whether or not what happens on screen is reality or fiction. We could wonder if Madeline is really an acting student, or whether it's all a deluded fantasy in the mind of a girl in a mental hospital. There are really 100 different answers to each of these questions, which isn't a good thing to us. Don't get us wrong, we don't need to have our hands held through each and every single bit of information with a clear-cut answer, but what winds up on screen is pure and utter headache-inducing chaos, plain and simple. We paid full attention and still don't have all the answers for you. That's probably Decker's intention, but for us, it didn't make for a pleasant viewing experience. This is not to say that we need everything to be pleasant when we're watching a film, we just need to be entertained, and we found ourselves detached and a little bit annoyed with this entire exercise. As far as the narrative goes, it is a jumbled mess as characters, and plot lines are introduced that go absolutely nowhere and are left unresolved. We get it, it's all a metaphor, but none of what winds up on screen is interesting or compelling in the way it is delivered. It seems that Decker is trying to be different for the sake of being different, not because it is necessary for the narrative or the understanding of her characters. For us, none of the frenzied camera work or hectic editing add to the story in any meaningful way other than forcing the notion that it is probably all in Madeline's mind.

One positive about "Madeline's Madeline" is that the acting is excellent. The people involved in this project work well with what they are given and make it a little more palatable. This is Helena Howard's acting debut, and she gets several great scenes to show off her natural talent, one specifically towards the end of the film. We believe she will go far in the industry and can see that she has potential even in this mess of a movie.
Helena Howard Madeline's Madeline 2018
"Life has a lot of pain in it." (Image Source)
"Madeline's Madeline" will be an inaccessible feature for the vast majority of audiences. We only see it appealing to a very niche crowd with a predisposition toward independent, exploratory filmmaking. Like we said above, we have enjoyed experimental in the past, and while we get what Decker is trying to accomplish, this just didn't do it for us.

My Rating: 3.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 3.5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~6.7/10
RT Rating: ~86%
Do we recommend this movie: No.

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