A theater director’s latest project takes on a life of its own when her young star takes her performance too seriously.
Director: Josephine Decker
Writers: Josephine Decker, Gail Segal
Stars: Helena Howard, Molly Parker, Miranda July
“Madeline’s Madeline” is one of those movies that is guaranteed to surprise you in one way or the other. This will likely happen when you meet Helena Howard, presented in Josephine Decker’s film as a guaranteed, bonafide, just-minutes-away-from-stardom acting breakout. Her acting abilities are so wildly good that Decker has essentially made an experimental, impulsive drama about those very talents.
Howard stars in the movie as an acting prodigy named Madeline whose discordant emotional relationship with her high-strung mother (Miranda July, in one of her very best performances) is romanticized by her acting teacher, Evangeline (Molly Parker). As we watch Evangeline rehearse with Madeline along with other, older NYC actors, by pretending to be animals or improvising any possible action, the movie blends reality and fiction with actors on the stage, while cutting back to memories or nightmares about much more emotional stakes.
Thankfully and unmistakably, “Madeline’s Madeline” is far too out there to be a mere acting reel. By its storytelling and aesthetics alone, it’s the type of welcome viewing challenge that encourages a second or third dive, in order to get in its headspace. It’s beautifully unwieldy, seemingly changing its editing, camera work and musical styles throughout, while telling a story that floats but is connected to the ground by a single thread. All the while, Howard is the center spectacle, and the movie plays like a fever dream inside her new, fascinating mind.
– Nick Allen, RogerEbert.com