“Madeline’s Madeline” begins with a nursed telling the audience, “What you are experiencing is just a metaphor.” That sets up the tone for what is to come, a boldly dissociative study of creativity and identity told through the lens of a sixteen year old girl.
The film essays the main people in Madeline’s (Helena Howard) life, with her mother Regina (Miranda July), acting teacher and maternal figure Evangeline (Molly Parker) and, finally, herself as she prepares to be part of an avant grade theatre production.
“Madeline’s Madeline” is a bold film. Madeline’s experiences, both real and imagined, merge creating a dreamy, unsettling pastiche of real life. She is a complicated character, beautifully played by newcomer Howard, with a multi-faceted personality that may be the result of mental illness or in expression of her creative spirit or her troubled relationship with Regina. Director Josephine Decker sets the stage, employing frenetic editing, overwhelming sound design and other experimental film techniques to place the viewer in Madeline’s headspace.
“Madeline’s Madeline” may prove too challenging, too psychedelic for casual viewing. Howard is a powerhouse, careening through the film untethered to the realities of narrative form but the oblique storytelling does the viewer no favours.