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Newcomer Helena Howard delivers a star-making turn in this fierce and vividly impressionistic tour-de-force from up-and-coming indie director Josephine Decker. Sixteen-year-old Madeline is an exceptionally talented actress who has become an integral part of a prestigious Manhattan theatre group, but a fractious relationship with her overbearing mother (Miranda July) and references to past visits to the psych ward indicate that home life is less than rosy. When the theatre group’s ambitious director (Molly Parker) decides to evoke Madeline’s troubled history in their latest production the lines between performance and reality start to blur.
“As Madeline takes her tentative first steps into the adult world, Decker’s incessantly inquisitive, intensely subjective style of filmmaking captures both the dizzying joy and abject terror of adolescence. The scenarios are familiar… but the director’s refusal to romanticise or trivialise her protagonist’s plights ensures that their depiction feels bracingly fresh.
By Decker’s own admission, the creative processes depicted on screen closely mirror those of Madeline’s Madeline itself, so it’s laudable to see the emerging auteur grapple so transparently and self-reflexively with her own methods. That she does so while delivering a flat-out thrilling stream-of-consciousness climax seals this as something very special indeed – a film that is at once intimidatingly dense and breezily concise, uncompromisingly experimental and riotously entertaining.” — Paul O’Callaghan, Sight & Sound