Starring Molly Parker. Rated PG
There are surely good intentions behind Madeline’s Madeline, an exercise in indie filmmaking that makes mumblecore look like Michael Bay.
Writer-director Josephine Decker has also acted in some of indie pioneer Joe Swanberg’s films, and she has two well-received features under her filmmaking belt. But a kind of folk-art crudity marks the film and its characters. Instead of backwoods carvers and religious painters, the folkies here are Brooklyn bohemians, caught up in the rhapsodic world of self-conscious creativity.
By no means a naughty French schoolgirl, the main Madeline of the title is a 16-year-old mixed-race kid (first-timer Helena Howard) who lives with her white mother, Regina (veteran trickster Miranda July, in a rare straight role). This volatile teen, who has spent unspecified time in a mental-care facility, is convinced she is some kind of cat—a source of consternation for Regina but somehow a delight to her cohorts in a living-theatre workshop she’s part of. The improv group is led by the pregnant and frequently tearful Evangeline, played by Vancouver’s Molly Parker. Don’t look for anything here to show up in her show reel.
The alleged dramatic tension centres on a maternal tug of war between two grown women over the affections of a child who is, frankly, not particularly charming, talented, or even forthcoming—all drawbacks in the acting department. She is, however, unusually pretty, but is that where we’re at these days? Everyone keeps talking about Madeline’s potential, but the evidence is buried under an avalanche of montages, jump cuts, and murky POV shots, all further discombobulated by a soundtrack that mixes throbbing electronic sounds with omnipresent heartbeats, heavy breathing, internal monologues, and off-screen conversations that often appear unrelated to the action—like Terrence Malick, minus the Beethoven and pretty pictures.
What little synchronized sound is used seems wholly improvised, with little memorable coming out of it. This fits, in a way, with the setting. But filmmakers usually work for posterity, not just in the moment. And this Madeline is nothing for Proust to write home about.