Madeline’s Madeline disguises its horrifyingly intimate conflict – presented without sugarcoating – behind a tapestry of dream sequences and untrustworthy characters
Josephine Decker continues her experimental approach to storytelling in Madeline's Madeline, which fragments its perspectives to explore the quiet, unintentional, intimate violence inflicted upon and by those closest to us. Some moments are baffling, others are clearly contrived nightmare scenarios, but all serve an honest exploration of the brutality inherent when close relationships’ uneven power dynamics reach their breaking points.
Helena Howard makes a fierce screen debut as troubled teen Madeline, who fights, sulks and rebels her way to a voice and identity separate from her mother, Regina (July), and drama teacher, Evangeline (Parker). In their presence, Madeline dances between open defiance and ominous acquiescence in equally volatile measures, but alone she giggles, jokes and revels in a love of life. Madeline’s own actions often veer towards the reprehensible but never come across as less than essential for her survival.
Unlike many coming-of-age films, there is no neat resolution to be found – only hard-fought emancipation. Both authoritative women believe that they love Madeline but each microaggression and tiny invasion of privacy communicate a stinging, suffocating lack of respect. In a stomach-turning performance, July perfectly judges Regina as a mother who dresses up her own emotional neediness as concern for her daughter. Where Lady Bird finds redemption in a newly sculpted mother-daughter bond, Madeline’s Madeline opts for a completely necessary severing. Likewise, Evangeline’s abuse of power may not be as insidious as Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Kindergarten Teacher but chills with its charismatic self-involvement.
Madeline’s Madeline disguises its horrifyingly intimate conflict – presented without sugarcoating – behind a tapestry of dream sequences and untrustworthy characters. This framing keeps the narrative’s rawness from slipping into mawkish kitchen-sink portrayals, keeping Madeline’s experience and escape entirely sympathetic. While some scenes feel disjointed, the fire behind this exploration will stick in the mind beyond its run time.
Released 10 May by MUBI (also on release in selected cinemas)