Time for a confession here. When I was growing up, starting from about 13 until I don’t know – a couple of years ago, I was a hellion. My parents, I’m sure, we’re completely dumbfounded as to how to deal with me. To make things even more difficult, especially for my mom, they were divorced. I was angry and exceptionally depressed and acted out in some really outlandish and off-putting ways. Thankfully, that’s not what we’re here to talk about today, but I felt it was worth mentioning in relation to the film I just watched. MADELINE’S MADELINE, artfully directed by Josephine Decker (Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, Collective Unconscious), is one of the most interesting and original meditations on teenage mental illness I have seen in quite some time.
The titular Madeline (Helena Howard in her feature film acting debut) is a disturbed teenager whose only relief comes from her acting class, taught by a perfect composite of every uwu theater teacher I’ve ever known, Evangeline (Molly Parker; Deadwood, Lost In Space). The class is incredibly physical and involves students acting like certain animals. Madeline’s favorite animal to emulate is a cat, which she does surprisingly well.
Madeline lives with her mother, Regina (the one and only amazing genius Miranda July, director of Me, You, and Everyone We Know, author of many awesome books, actor in great movies like this one and most of her own) and her little brother, Damon (Jaron Elijah Hopkins; The Breaks). We find out in one particularly mortifying scenes that Madeline’s Dad used to be in the picture, but it is never explained why he isn’t there anymore. It should be mentioned for the sake of the story that Madeline & Damon’s father was black and their mother is white.
Madeline and her mother have an extremely fraught relationship, which she gladly escapes through her theater classes. Evangeline is Madeline’s hero and it doesn’t take too long to see that Madeline is slowly becoming Evangeline’s favorite student. One particular class comes in which we find out Evangeline is pregnant and she then invites Madeline to a barbecue at her house. When she arrives, she finds that Evangeline’s husband, George (Curtiss Cook; Shutter Island), and his family are also black. Things take a strange turn here. In the class, Evangeline begins to focus the piece they are working on into an exploration of Madeline’s mental illness, without Madeline necessarily realizing this is happening. Madeline feels out of place in her own world, with her mother who she feels she can’t relate to (but who truly loves her and wants the best for her) and her exploitative theater teacher who may be a little mentally ill herself.
The film explores themes such as cultural appropriation, exploitation, mental illness, and family tragedy in a dreamlike haze. Written by Decker and Donna di Novelli (Stag), the characters of Madeline, Regina, and Evangeline are perfect female archetypes for our century.
The film’s conclusion is wonderful and actually quite hilarious and it’s good to say that Madeline comes out of that moment triumphant. There’s a little bit of all three women in me, and I’m sure if you’re a woman watching this excellent film written and directed by and about women, you’ll find them in you too. If you’re a guy, every other movie on Earth is made for you, so don’t cry about it, just enjoy the film. It’s a great one.
MADELINE’S MADELINE had its Canadian Premiere on July 30th and will play again on August 1st. It’s US theatrical opening is August 10th, 2018.