“These feelings are not your own. This is just a metaphor.” This is the puzzling mantra that begins a twisted coming-of-age movie and it is repeated throughout the descent into madness. Madeline’s Madeline follows the eponymous 16-year-old girl who loves losing herself in acting. When she learns how to act like a cat or a turtle, she actually telekinetically is transported into their bodies, which at first seems magical but is later revealed to be a dangerous delusion.
The film follows Madeline (Helen Howard) as she collaborates with a theatre troupe led by the ostensibly liberated Evangeline (Molly Parker), who acts as her mentor and role model. Evangeline sees an immense, precocious talent in the 16 year old and pushes her, even after learning of her mental health issues. In the eyes of her jittery, concerned mother, Regina (Miranda July), Madeline’s innate ability to slip into different perspectives is a symptom of her alarming problems with mental health and her vulnerability. The movie swirls and careens around this trinity: the three women push and pull each other close to the edge of sanity.
Helen Howard is an absolute revelation, swinging from life of the party in her acting group to unstable daughter and finally demented genius. Scenes and perspectives ambiguously float around and blend into one another, audio is selective and at times the audience is unsure whose eyes we’re seeing through. This psychological kaleidoscope bounces through the emotional spectrum and finally plunges into an intense ego-death.
The juxtaposition of mental illness and artistic genius is nothing new, but director Josephine Decker breaks new ground by creating a palpable window into sickness. The true gift of Madeline’s Madeline is that it’s not merely a portrait of schizophrenia but poses a poignant question: who is really sick?
Evangeline and Regina are initially depicted as Madeline’s concerned mother figures but their own disturbing complexes are quickly revealed as they manipulate and shape the teenager into their own likeness.
Madeline’s Madeline is a superb character study that exposes the cathartic and destructive power of performance.
Madeline’s Madeline does not have a UK release date yet.
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