Madeline’s Madeline: The Definition of Art House

Helena Howard appears in Madeline's Madeline by Josephine Decker, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Ashley Connor.

With a standout performance from newcomer Helena Howard, Madeline’s Madeline lives up to the very definition of art house cinema.

Madeline (Helena Howard) is a member of a theater troupe that plays more to the physical side of acting.  There’s a lot of method to the director Evangeline’s (Molly Parker) approach.  The director’s approach, rooted in improvisation, probably isn’t the best idea for this young woman.  Because having been diagnosed with some sort of mental illness, Madeline’s relationship with her mother, Regina (Miranda July), isn’t in the right place either.  It does, however, add some layers to the character.  We never get informed about what the diagnosis is but only that a prescription of pills needed to be refilled.

As her director pushes her to the limits, Madeline takes on identities of a cat or even a sea turtle.  At one point, she acts out word-for-word what her mother had said while afraid of how Madeline was acting.

There are things to be said about how actors act and directors direct.  I’ve taken acting and improv comedy classes.  Not once have I ever had a director who taught with this kind of method.  Maybe that’s what makes the screenplay by Josephine Decker and Donna Di Novelli to be so unique.  In spite of the film’s uniqueness, it won’t appeal to everyone.

In spite of it all, Helena Howard knocks it out of the park on her first attempt.  Even if the film isn’t your cup of tea, Howard’ talent alone takes the film up a notch.  Some actors take years working on their craft before they hit a home run.  Helena Howard manages to do so on the first attempt!

Premiering at Sundance in January, this is a film that will challenges its audience to think about what they just saw.  One viewing alone isn’t enough–especially when it comes as the fifth film of a film festival while writing on deadline.  It’s too much to take in and not enough time digest what Decker’s film was saying.  That’s so much material in just over 90 minutes but it makes one think about what they just saw.  I’m not even sure of the target audience outside of art house cinema lovers.

While the second viewing was a much-needed refresher, it didn’t change the fact that there were things that I didn’t like about the film.  We talk a lot about the existence of toxic masculinity but nothing much gets said about toxic femininity.  The fact is, it does exist (Mean Girls, anyone?).  There’s some thing to be said about how Evangeline is obsessed with Madeline.  We see it in how she aims to make a performance based on what’s in Madeline’s head.

While I love to show my support for indie films, I’m still not sure what to make of Madeline’s Madeline after two viewings on the big screen.  You’ll either love it or hate it.  It’s all in the eyes of the beholder, I guess.

DIRECTOR:  Josephine Decker
SCREENWRITERS:  Josephine Decker and Donna Di Novelli
CAST:  Helena Howard, Molly Parker, Miranda July, Okwui Okpokwasili, Felipe Bonilla, Lisa Tharps

Madeline’s Madeline held its world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.  Oscilloscope Laboratories opened the film in select theaters on August 10, 2018 with a theatrical roll-out to follow.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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