- Emma Simmonds
- 6 May 2019
Beautifully realised deep dive into the mind of a vulnerable teen, from director Josephine Decker
Mothering and mental illness combine to smothering effect in Josephine Decker's deep dive into the mind of a vulnerable 16-year-old, strikingly played by newcomer Helena Howard. Evocatively shot by Ashley Connor (The Miseducation of Cameron Post), it submerges us in Madeline's erratic, overwhelmed take on the world. We watch as this mixed-race teen pinballs between two competing authority figures: her downtrodden, bundle-of-nerves mom Regina (Miranda July) and her radiant, seemingly sympathetic acting coach Evangeline (Molly Parker).
Conveniently ignoring her student's increasingly unpredictable behaviour and showering her with faux maternal affection, smug bohemian Evangeline puts Madeline at the centre of the drama group's world. She mines the teenager's turmoil for juicy material as if she's never heard of a duty of care, while Evangeline's pregnancy further complicates their boundary-blurring relationship. Nevertheless, Madeline's time with the troupe is a welcome release from her suffocating domestic situation; her life with her mother veers from fractious conversations to violent altercations, with Regina's every utterance reinforcing her daughter's feelings of alienation and inadequacy.
Utilising absurdist and avant-garde imagery and inspiring a triptych of gutsy performances, Decker (Thou Wast Mild and Lovely) explores the false fantasy and flawed reality of maternal love and confronts her fears as a filmmaker, as she deals with artistic exploitation and appropriation. Idiosyncratic in execution (with the actors spending extended periods aping the behaviour of animals and each other), it's realised to near-perfection and ultimately proves a terrifically satisfying watch. Decker hones in on a seminal time in the development of a young woman's identity; as Madeline filters out the noise, she finds her creative voice.
Available to stream on MUBI and on limited release from Fri 10 May.