You ever get about 20 minutes into a film and just go “Oh no, how long is this film?” I had that feeling watching Madeline’s Madeline, a story about a young actress – Madeline (Helena Howard) – who begins to bring aspects of her real life into the character she’s creating to nightmarish results. When you’re at Sundance, you try to talk yourself into thinking that what you’re watching is important and artful, because it’s Sundance. I just couldn’t talk myself into it for this film. It’s a film that uses the guise of being “experimental” as an excuse for poor filmmaking.
Director Josephine Decker can never grab hold of her own film and point it in any direction that would lead somewhere. Every time the film is onto something it just falls apart in favor of staying “experimental” aka disruptingly bad. The reveal of Madeline’s mood disorder creates possibilites that are never explored. The cinematography is shot largely out of focus, there’s hardly a shot that stays in focus as they rack the focus back and forth intending to be disorienting but just end up feeling lazy. Decker repeatedly inserts the sounds of loud breathing into scenes throughout the film, to what purpose is unclear. In a lot of experimental films that are actually experimental, you end up wanting to know what it all meant. I didn’t care enough to know what it meant, there’s not enough there to draw much of anything meaningful out of it.
About 10 people had the realization this wasn’t going anywhere and walked out, I would have joined them if not for the strength of the performances. Helena Howard is a tremendous discovery as the central character. She has the ability to be constantly present no matter who the scene is focusing on, and feel then display emotions at their deepest and loudest levels. She convincingly portrays mental illness in an authentic manner. She can more than hold her own against seasoned vets in Molly Parker and Miranda July. I look forward to seeing her act more, and hope to see her in better films than this one.