Sundance 2018 Review: Madeline’s Madeline – Illegitimate Theater

Poster image of Madeline’s Madeline by Josephine Decker, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

I love to quote Homer Simpson saying, “I love legitimate theater.” They’ve made great plays out of premises far more outlandish than a Planet of the Apes musical, which is what spurred his reaction. Madeline’s Madeline is a portrait of illegitimate theater. Of course, it’s art, man, and it wouldn’t be Sundance if you didn’t see at least one magnificently pretentious art film.

Madeline (Helena Howard) is in a theater class. She does exercises as an animal, and her teacher (Molly Parker) comments that she’s still a woman playing an animal. So they do more and more improvisational theater exercises, including one where they wear pig helmets and green chest plates.

Helena Howard and Molly Parker appear in Madeline’s Madeline by Josephine Decker, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

The opening of the film tells us that what we are about to watch is just a metaphor, not the actual thing. That comes up several times the weirder things get. I suppose the animals are a metaphor for actual animals, and the movement exercises are metaphors for Madeline’s life?

There are occasional scenes of Madeline’s real life with her mom (Miranda July). They’re no more literal than the theater scenes. She has a condition I didn’t pick up on for which she takes medication, but any number of mood disorders could benefit from immersion theater. Her mom tries to support her theater activities but she has real problems to work out.

I can see the therapeutic value of acting out your issues in a safe space full of open minded artists. I just can’t imagine anyone paying to see it. When the teacher settles on what this play actually is, some of the other students call her out on what she’s appropriating. My impression is they still perform it though.

So Madeline’s Madeline was not for me but I’m sure there’s someone out there for it. I respect the passion and commitment of Howard, Parker, July, the cast and filmmakers. Find your inner animal and perform your immersion theater. My seat will be available for anyone more likely to be reached by this exercise.

Written by
Fred Topel also known as Franchise Fred has been an entertainment journalist since 1999 and specializes in writing about film, television and video games. Fred has written for several outlets including About.com, CraveOnline, and Rotten Tomatoes among others. His favorite films include Toy Story 2, The Rock, Face/Off, True Lies, Labyrinth, The Big Hit, Michael Moore's The Big One, and Casablanca. We are very lucky and excited to have Fred as part of the We Live Entertainment team. Follow him on Twitter @FranchiseFred and @FredTopel

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