Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sundance with Abe: Madeline’s Madeline

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fifth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Madeline’s Madeline
Directed by Josephine Decker

Weird can sometimes be good, but weird is always weird. Plenty of films are experimental and choose novel approaches for how to tell a story on screen. That can have an appeal, and it can just as easily be off-putting and fail to attract an audience. When the content – and the story within a story – is what’s strange, it’s the responsibility of the film to find a way to frame it and make it interesting. It’s worked numerous times in the past, but unfortunately this film is a poor example of how to present a wild and unusual plot.

Madeline (Helena Howard) has found something that she likes to do: theater. Encouraged to indulge her odder thoughts and draw on her history for her inspiration by her theater director Evangeline (Molly Parker), she uses it as an opportunity to escape the confines of her everyday life in which her mother (Miranda July) never ceases to irk her, prompting unfriendly responses and creating a strained relationship between them. As Evangeline pushes her more and more to open up, reconciling her work on stage and her life at home becomes increasingly difficult as her behaviors begin to merge.

There is evidently something about Madeline that deeply troubles her mother, not limited to the frequent lashing out that she does, which includes violent incidents. She sees the way that Evangeline emphasizes tapping into those impulses as destructive, and eventually she too becomes drawn to the allure of being the teacher’s pet and being commended for demonstrating talent. There’s a story to be found in here somewhere, but it’s all very muddled and presented in a confusing, unappealing format.

Molly Parker, Miranda July, director Josephine Decker, and Helena Howard discuss the film

Howard is unquestionably a breakout, but it’s hard to imagine how she was directed going into this film, which pretty much allows her to express herself in the wildest ways possible. Parker has been stronger in other projects like “House of Cards.” And it was July’s work behind and in front of the camera on “Me and You and Everyone We Know” that drew this reviewer to this film, and while her work here is solid, this film is a complete different kind of weird from that brilliant feature. This likely started as a potentially compelling experiment, but it falters throughout and fails to become coherent, stumbling and irritating as it never reaches any real point.


No comments: