Madeline’s Madeline Review

Such is the power of Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline that it lingers in the memory long after the end credits roll. The creativity, the beauty, the humour, the passion and the chaos all contribute to announcing Decker as one of the most important and unique voices in modern US cinema.

It could be said that she is fortunate to work with such an inspiring muse. The newcomer Helena Howard is a magnetic and dominant presence in a film where her character draws the attention of everyone she meets as the young star of theatre director Evangeline’s (Molly Parker) latest project. As Madeline (Howard) begins to take the performance all too seriously, Evangeline senses the opportunity to use the frantic and unpredictable energy of her debutant much as Decker uses Howard’s verve as the fulcrum of her work.

From its strangely sensual and playful opening to hypnotic depictions of the play’s rehearsals, there is often a mischievous and lighthearted tone set by Decker but there are frequent hints at a darker side as it begins to become clear that Madeline is altogether more vulnerable than her striding confidence would have you believe. While Evangeline looks to take advantage of this, Madeline’s mother Regina (Miranda July) is anxious. Worried her daughter may be entering a world for which she is ill prepared, July plays Regina with a quiet unease, brilliantly exploding with pent up emotion. She frets and fusses and her discomfort gently moves from comic side-note to disturbingly crucial.

Decker bathes her young lead in gorgeous warm light during her moments of elation, but cold and pale are the moments of disappointment and sadness. The tension and claustrophobia are carefully constructed with a camera that forever hovers in the immediate; prying and probing for weaknesses.

Madeline’s Madeline is a painfully disturbing portrayal of the conflict between the peace and anarchy of the fragile mind. Madeline’s delicate balance is so easily tipped. Her mask so easily slips, revealing the tumult beneath. The high moments are of sheer elation, but the lows are agonising, desperately leaving the viewer wishing the fiction of her life was real. Instead, Decker shows her mania in all its grotesque truth, in a portrait of mental illness that is honest, murky and unflinching.

Jonathan Gleneadie


Madeline’s Madeline is out on general release and is available to stream on the 10th May courtesy of Mubi

About The Author

Jonathan went back to university to study Film Journalism in Glasgow in 2012 and hasn't looked back since. Writing for the Edinburgh Internation Film Festival, The Birmingham Review, The Electrolyte Magazine as well as Front Row Reviews he enjoys working across media and if not lambasting folk about politics it's film on his agenda. Working in The Electric Cinema in Birmingham has allowed him to come closer to the medium he loves, his favourite filmmaker is Wong Kar-Wai.

One Response

  1. Marketing Hub

    During the first few minutes of this film, I found myself ready to be disappointed, thinking it was going to essentially be Theatre Kids: The Movie , which it really isn t. About ten minutes in, I got more used to the film and started to kind of see what parts of it were going for and it became a much more enjoyable experience. Throughout my time watching this movie, there was both very much and very little for me to say. Madeline s Madeline is a very challenging film on multiple levels, and I m not exactly sure how I feel about it. My time watching it was certainly mostly positive, but whether or not it achieves true greatness is totally lost on me. It is especially difficult for me to pinpoint my exact feelings on the film s ending, which may or may not be both lacking and overflowing with ambiguity. However, there are a few things about this film that are for certain. For starters, it is (in my opinion delightfully) weird, oozing with absurd humour, surrealistic imagery, and an ever increasingly uncomfortable atmosphere. The editing and camerawork go hand in hand to make this a visually fascinating and impressive work. The psychological depths explored in the film are perfectly portrayed thanks to director Josephine Decker s incredible vision and talent for realizing said vision. Equally impressive is the acting. Miranda July is surprisingly intimidating and unsurprisingly awkward and Molly Parker is able to juggle likability with a strange undercurrent of suspicion on the part of the viewer extremely well. However, the real highlight of the film s performances comes from Madeline herself, played by newcomer Helena Howard. If the visionary visuals, editing, and score aren t enough to convince you to watch this film, her performance should. There is a particular sequence towards the end that was legitimately breathtaking due to her emotive and powerful performance. In many ways, it is an extremely pronounced performance, and in many other ways it is extremely subtle. To see such a young actor display so much incredible talent makes me excited to see her future career, and makes this film all the better.


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