Madeline’s Madeline: Film Review

Madeline’s Madeline was on my list of films to watch at the London Film Festival, but I missed it, so I made sure to catch up with it before its release and to be honest, I wish I hadn’t bothered.

Newcomer Helena Howard stars as the titular Madeline, a young girl in a physical theatre/performance art troupe. One day she tells her teacher Evangeline (Molly Parker) that she dreamed of hitting her mother Regina (Miranda July) with an iron and Evangeline then decides to ditch her original performance concept in favour of exploring Madeline’s fraught relationship with her mum and the lines between performance and reality begin to blur.

Even though I expected it to be indie, I had no idea how experimental Madeline’s Madeline was going to be. The story had the right ingredients to be really interesting but it was told in a jarring and off-putting way. I couldn’t get into it because you never knew who the characters really were – you were given glimpses of information about them but so much was missing and I wanted the central relationships to have depth and be explored in a satisfying way but instead it chose to focus on physical theatre performances showing Madeline as a cat or a turtle. The relationships aren’t really explored at all – you are given minimal information and you have to fill in the blanks for yourself. What mental illness does Madeline need medication for? What is up with her mum? Why is their relationship so difficult? Where is her dad? It was so frustrating not knowing these things.

It was even more annoying because newcomer Howard was extraordinary and a real revelation. She is so talented and she really captures the amount of anger within Madeline and nails the performance art scenes (she makes a good cat). I wanted to know more about her. July didn’t have much to do except argue and fight with Madeline so their scenes were unpleasant. Parker’s character was curious to me and I couldn’t figure her out. What was she playing at? Why was she exploiting Madeline’s life in her work?

This film is told in a way that won’t appeal to everybody, and I’m included. It does actually come to a satisfying conclusion but by that point, I was over it.

In selected cinemas and on streaming service MUBI from Friday 10th May 

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