Madeline's Madeline (Josephine Decker, 2018)


What’s this all about?

Madeline tries to make peace with herself in the worst possible place: a hipster theatre troupe.

Art as Therapy

There are plenty of artists that think their work is going to change the world. They have this assumption that art can improve our lives, teach important lessons and make this planet a better place: racism is wrong, stealing is bad, and missing your son’s football match will make him a bitter and resentful person for the rest of his life. Plenty of artists behave with self-importance and believe that anything goes because they think they’re providing a good service to society.  

Art can be quite helpful, but it’s also not your friend, not your mentor, and definitely not your therapist.

In the movie, Madeline (Helena Howard) has mental health problems and sees in art a way to liberate herself. Art, however, finds in her other benefits: more selfish ones. Madeline’s acting teacher (Molly Parker) takes advantage of her because she doesn’t care about anyone but her art. She believes her project will bring concerns about mental health, and that should be enough, shouldn’t it?

Madeline’s Madeline summarises how artists can be such pricks even though their works promote the exact opposite. You’re surprised that the man who wrote Green Book has made some racists remarks? Well, you shouldn’t.

Art might not save us, but it will sure look down on us.


Indie nightmare

Look, Madeline dressed as a turtle! 

Madeline’s Madeline is not another quirky indie movie (thankfully!), and Madeline is not another manic-pixie-girl dream (thankfully again!). Josephine Decker uses all these indie tropes —like pig masks and weird cat noises— to mislead us and then generate a much stronger impact. But this is not Me and Earl and the Dying Girl or Submarine or (500) Days of Summer. No, this is a serious matter.

Mothers and mother figures

The mother-daughter relationship is crucial to the story. Both Madeline and her mom (Miranda July) try to help each other but fail miserably. How could they, if they have no idea what’s going on? The first thing is to recognise there’s a problem, but they are too oblivious to realise there’s even one.

Madeline finds in Evangeline a mother-figure who unfortunately might be even worse. But if Evangeline is indifferent to Madeline’s concerns, it’s because she’s unaware she’s become that role. 

Helena Howard + Miranda July - Madeline’s Madeline

Spoiler area

The movie is so fast-paced and the ending is so cathartic, I had no time to catch my breath.

I was expecting more visual flair in its climax though, but it is understandable considering its limited budget. When the big act finished, I thought, if the movie ends right now, it’ll be amazing. I love it when directors read your mind.

The moment

The pig’s outburst in the middle of the street.

Recommended for:

Those who like movies that teach you that movies can’t teach you a thing.

Some other stray observations

  • Nice to see Miranda July outside of Miranda July’s universe. She’s still weird, as per usual, but gives a very touching  performance that I was not expecting.

  • Molly Parker, on the other hand, plays Evangeline with such warmth and intelligence that you forget she’s behaving like a monster.

  • And, yes, I obviously want those pig masks for Halloween.

Molly Parker - Madeline’s Madeline

Good companion pieces

  • The science of sleep (2004), by Michel Gondry, is also deceivingly not quirky even though the movie has animated scenes, handmade visual effects and a childlike main character. But both comedies are more serious than they look as they both deal with mental instability too.

  • Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind (2001) is not what a movie about schizophrenia should be: it is emotionally manipulative and uses mental issues as a plot twist. With Madeline’s Madeline, Josephine Decker is pointing her finger at productions like this.

MVP (cast)

Helena Howard bares her soul in here making her performance one of the most powerful debuts on screen.

MVP (techs)

Sarah Maiorino homemade customs and hipster clothes are essential to the movie’s truly indie spirit.

Helena Howard - Madeline’s Madeline

Why am I watching this?

  • Have you seen the trailer? See Below.

Judging a film by its trailer.

Best trailer of the year. Even decade. It even works as a stand-alone piece. Brilliant editing, unnerving score. The trailer reminds you of a Michel Gondry music video. It might be a little misleading as the movie is not as visually bonkers, but it still gives you an idea. You know you have a good piece of art on your hands when there are credits at the end. Watch.

For Your Consideration

Best film - Best Director: Josephine Decker - Best Actress: Helena Howard - Best Supporting Actress: Miranda July, Molly Parker - Best screenplay: Josephine Decker, Donna Di Noveli - Best Cinematography: Ashley Connor - Best Editing: Harrison Atkins, Josephine Decker, Elizabeth Rao - Best Costume Design: Sarah Maiorino - Best Score: Caroline Shaw - Best trailer - Most misleading poster


Madeline's Madeline

Directed by Josephine Decker | 2018 | USA

Main cast: Helena Howard, Miranda July, Molly Parker

Rating: 8.5