Review: In ‘Madeline’s Madeline,’ Hazy Boundaries Between Life in addition to Art
“What you are experiencing is actually just a metaphor.” I’m thinking of having those words, which are spoken by a nurse in what may be a dream at the start of “Madeline’s Madeline,” tattooed on my arm. Even though — or just because — I’m not entirely sure what they mean. How can an experience, which seems like the very definition of a literal phenomenon, be a metaphor to the person having that will? in addition to why “just” a metaphor? is actually that will supposed to be reassuring (the line is actually spoken by someone in a nurse’s uniform) or terrifying?
One of the assumptions of that will seductive, disturbing, exasperating movie — the third feature written in addition to directed by Josephine Decker (after “Butter on the Latch” in addition to “Thou Wast Mild in addition to Lovely”) — is actually that will conventional distinctions don’t necessarily apply. Between fantasy in addition to reality, certainly, yet also between authenticity in addition to artifice, theater in addition to therapy, art in addition to life. Madeline herself, a brand-new York teenager played with bracing conviction by Helena Howard, is actually not much interested in separating those things. that will is actually partly a sign of adolescent confusion, possibly a symptom of mental instability in addition to very much a matter of creative principle, for both Madeline in addition to Ms. Decker.
Madeline divides her time — also her loyalty in addition to eventually her resentment — between her mother, Regina (Miranda July), in addition to a charismatic theater director named Evangeline (Molly Parker). One of the youngest members of Evangeline’s company, Madeline participates in workshops in addition to exercises in preparation for what looks like a production of “The Three Little Pigs.” She spends time channeling animal behavior (sometimes as a sea turtle, more often as a cat) in addition to delving into raw, primal emotions. She does some of that will at home too.
Regina worries about Madeline, which is actually understandable — she alludes to her daughter’s time “within the psych ward” — in addition to also, to Madeline, infuriating. Evangeline, meanwhile, encourages her protégée to take risks in addition to dig deeper, perhaps to the point of insensitivity to Madeline’s vulnerability. The audience, deeply embedded within the girl’s subjectivity, wavers between impatience with Regina’s uptightness in addition to alarm at Evangeline’s recklessness, all the while trying to locate a stable perspective through which to judge the situation.
Which is actually precisely what Ms. Decker withholds. Her scenes are collages of dissociated sounds in addition to decentered images, in addition to her approach to narrative is actually oblique in addition to subjective. The result is actually less a lack of clarity — we can usually figure out what is actually going on, in addition to how Madeline feels about that will — than a suggestive fuzziness, the sense that will experiences are also metaphors.
Occasionally, the contours of a conventional coming-of-age story are visible through the haze, producing Ms. Decker’s techniques seem as willful in addition to contrived as some of Evangeline’s theatrical conceits. Evangeline, fascinated by Madeline’s raw talent in addition to eager to make use of that will, risks crossing the line between empathy in addition to exploitation. In her own way, Ms. Decker does too. yet if “Madeline’s Madeline” is actually sometimes unconvincing in addition to frequently unnerving, that will is actually never uninteresting. In its final moments that will ascends into heady, almost visionary territory, like a balloon caught in a sudden updraft, in addition to becomes a singular in addition to strange experience.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes.