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.
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.