MADELINE’S MADELINE, supposedly a largely experiential film begins with an actress told not to be a cat but to be inside a cat, throwing away all metaphors etc. She purrs like a cat, is stroked like a cat and thus behaves as one. The screen is also filled with saturated colours for no apparent reason as the audience struggles to make some sense as to what is occurring on screen.
The film centres on a high school student, Madeline (Helena Howard) taking makeshift acting classes under some kooky teacher, Evangeline (Molly Parker). Evangeline is also pregnant which might explain a bit of the weird behaviour. Madeline has a eating disorder and is looked after by her overbearing white mother, Regina (Miranda July) who she does not get along with, especially during these rebellious years. She finds solace in her acting classes including befriending Evangeline who takes a sudden interest in her acting.
Evangeline’s methods lots of improvisation where the actors are ask to do anything from acting out what they feel to pretending to be animals. It is a wonder that none of the students think Regina is crazy.
At one point, Madeline acts like a sea turtle as the camera gives the audiences the turtle’s eye view of one as it makes itself towards the sea. “Be a sea turtle, not a woman being a sea turtle,” is the response Evangeline gives her. The rest of the class do weird things like beat the curtains, scream and make sudden body movements. The class also sit around in a circle to talk about a moment of violence they wish to share.
The film is not without violence, imagined or otherwise. Most of it is acted out or appear in dreams as in the one Madeline has of pressing a hot iron on her mother.
It is hard to critique a film as different and at times so experimental as this one. The film could be classified as inventive, exploring and original, going against the grain of narrative film. It can be also considered as a load of rubbish. To each his or her own. But what thing is for sure – MADELINE’S MADELINE is different experience.
There a lot of dramatic mother and daughter confrontations that occur in the car, similar to that of the famous LADY BIRD segment where the daughter suddenly jumps out of the speeding car. Madeline does the same, getting out of the car when mother becomes too much.
From the very beginning when a voiceover taunts Madeline: “What you are feeling is a metaphor, and your emotions are not yours,” words continually ring that often do not make any sense. The film requires the audience to surrender to the creative process of the acting workshop and find ones true self like the character of Madeline supposed to be going through. Unfortunately the workshop is conducted by a very insecure teacher, Evangeline who takes on Madeline like a daughter. They argue just as ferociously as the real mother and daughter. Do we really need to watch all this? Annoying characters, jittery camera, shouting and screaming, no head-or-tail logic and experimental s***. The film does not allow audiences to think on their own but blare its message and way of story-telling (if one can consider the film to contain one) of ramming it down ones throat. Decker never answers any of the questions she poses in her film either. To this critic, MADELINE’S MADELINE is a load of rubbish!