Review: Madeline’s Madeline (Fantasia Festival 2018)

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

Each and every summer I see a lots & lots & LOTS of movies, courtesy of the New York Asian Film Festival and JAPAN CUTS, but this year there’s a third film fest that I’ve been invited to cover, and that’s the Fantasia Festival! I’ve actually gone over some of Fantasia’s offerings already, since they can be found here in the Big Apple, via the two aforementioned fests, such as Inuyashiki & Violence Voyager. But then there’s the movies that I thankfully didn’t have to trek on up to the Great White North to see, and hopefully you won’t either (as you can tell, some of these get around)…

Since debuting at Sundance earlier this year, Madeline’s Madeline has been THE breakout hit at every film festival it has appeared at, with the latest stop being Fantasia. Hardly a shocker, given the lead’s mesmerizing debut performance, along with the director’s gleeful attempt at sensory overload (perfect for Fantasia Fest), plus subject matter that’s genetically engineered for high-brow/art-fart movie going crowd (so in that sense, it’s also an odd one out).

The star of the show is a 16-year-old woman transitioning towards being a 17-year-old woman, and like most coming of age flicks, Madeline’s torn two worlds. The first is the mundane, everyday existence that her mother’s center stage of; you want to root for this woman, Regina, since it ain’t easy being a single mom, especially when the child has (an unidentified form of) mental illness. Being in NYC probably doesn’t help either. Yet she also tries to be the cool mom and it’s super cringe-y. Again, being in NYC ain’t helping. Coupled with bouts of eye-rolling neurosis and you’ve got a perpetually low altitude helicopter parent. An early scene has Madeline showing off her estranged dad’s basement dwelling to a bunch of guy friends, where they all sit around & watch pop’s porn on VHS; Regina stumbles across the scene and thinks it’s a good idea to join the viewing in progression, which includes the suggestion that the guys “whip out” their penises. It’s excruciatingly awkward, yet admittedly, an awesome scene.

With all that in mind, it’s no any wonder that Madeline desires escape, and this other world is an acting class headed by her other mother, so to speak. Alas, the woman that Madeline apparently wishes was actually mom is Evangeline, the stereotypical artiste who wields an almost cult like hold over her students. Also very early on, it’s established that Madeline is a pro at their very goofy form of method acting; perhaps due to some innate skill, all the hormones running through her, or the aforementioned mental illness (probably some combo of the three), which allows Madeline to really get into pretending that she’s a cat. Also established immediately is Evangeline’s infatuation with her star pupil, who slowly starts making the young woman the star of their upcoming production. As one might assume, Evangeline manipulates Madeline’s frail psyche to get the desired results, which in one case is acting like a pig. Things then get super weird and complicated when Evangeline, who is expecting a child btw, invites Madeline home to have dinner. There she meets Evangeline’s husband, and here we discover that maybe Regina was right, so maybe Madeline watching her dad’s porn collection was maybe a bad idea after all.

Madeline’s Madeline will no doubt appear in many top ten lists at the end of this year… some have even gone far enough to state that it’s one of the best of the century thus far… and I’ll probably agree with much of the praise, despite not finding the film enjoyable. Cuz as someone all too familiar with not only individuals attempting to perfect the art of parenting, but also folk involved in the profession of acting… primarily in the Big Apple… the portrayals of Regina and Evangeline were uncomfortable spot on. In the end, it’s all about star Helena Howard; her legit “holy sh*t” impressive first stab at being a movie star is attention grabbing and attention holding. Even when the rest of the movie, in particular the overactive aesthetics, tries a bit too hard. Howard will no doubt be that dark horse fave who won’t get the Oscar next year, though as someone else has already pointed out, she’s also guaranteed to be in the next X-Men flick to introduce a new crop of teen mutants at the very least.

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