Madeline's Madeline

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Madeline's Madeline
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJosephine Decker
Written byJosephine Decker
Donna Di Novelli
Produced byKrista Parris
Elizabeth Rao
CinematographyAshley Connor
Edited byHarrison Atkins
Josephine Decker
Music byCaroline Shaw
  • Forager Film Company
  • Bow and Arrow Entertainment
Distributed byOscilloscope Laboratories
Release dates
  • January 22, 2018 (2018-01-22) (Sundance)
  • August 10, 2018 (2018-08-10) (United States)
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$185,576[2]

Madeline's Madeline is a 2018 American drama film written and directed by Josephine Decker. It stars Helena Howard in her first film role, alongside Molly Parker and Miranda July. The film follows a teenage actress who is encouraged by her theater director to blur the lines between the character she is playing and her actual identity. The film is known for its experimental visuals and the improvisational process Decker used to create the story, not unlike the characters themselves.

The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2018. It was released on August 10, 2018, by Oscilloscope Laboratories. The film received critical acclaim, particularly for Howard's performance, which was hailed by IndieWire as one of the 50 best performances of the 2010s decade.[3]


Madeline is a lonely teenager who is part of a professional acting ensemble creating an experimental theater performance about The Three Little Pigs using improvisation. She enjoys the company of the other actors and their director Evangeline, and dreads having to go home to her mother Regina who doesn't understand Madeline and often starts arguments. One day at rehearsal, Madeline confesses to Evangeline that she had a dream in which she placed a hot iron on her mother. Struck by this dream, Evangeline decides to have the performers recreate it in an improv exercise. Madeline gets overwhelmed at how her life is conflating with her art and wanders out of the theater alone while Regina looks for her. After she finds Madeline, Regina discovers that Madeline's prescription for an unspecified mental illness has run out, and she struggles to get it quickly refilled.

Evangeline gradually makes Madeline's life the central focus of the theater performance they are devising. During a promotional photoshoot, Evangeline asks Regina to pose in the photo with Madeline. One rehearsal ends early, so Madeline goes to Evangeline's house for a birthday party, where she shows off her acting skills to the uncomfortable guests and hits on Evangeline's husband. After speaking with Evangeline about their mutual feelings of self-consciousness and vulnerability, Madeline reveals that she wants to leave the group and Evangeline agrees that Madeline should take a break from acting for a bit.

Madeline is relieved at her new found creative freedom but is dismayed when Evangeline stops by Madeline's house. She and Regina end up bonding over a couple glasses of wine, and Evangeline convinces Regina that she would be an excellent actor if she tried it. She tells Regina to stop by rehearsal the next day. All three women show up to the rehearsal, and Evangeline has them do an exercise where everyone pretends to be Regina, but Madeline's version of her mother is too real and it hits a nerve: Regina leaves the rehearsal crying.

Evangeline loves how real the emotions are, and asks the performers to recreate that scene again while she takes an important phone call outside. The performers are disgusted by the way Evangeline has been exploiting Madeline's emotions and identity, and they lock the door. They quickly devise a performance for Evangeline: a confrontational journey through the winding rehearsal building.

At first Evangeline objects to being shoved around by everyone, but eventually despite struggling, she is used as part of the performance. The troupe ends up outside in the street, all dancing together in the sunlight as Madeline walks in the opposite direction.



Josephine Decker directed the film and wrote its screenplay. Camera work was handled by Ashley Connor, and music was composed by Caroline Shaw. The film's producers were Krista Parris and Elizabeth Rao.[5]

Decker and Howard first met in 2014 at a teen arts festival that the director was judging. 15-year-old Howard performed a monologue from Blackbird by David Harrower, and Decker was so moved by the performance that she began to cry, which caused Howard to cry, too. Decker told her that it was the best performance she'd ever seen, and that she'd like them to work together on a film.[6][7]

The film's story began as a fictionalized telling of Howard's own life, but Decker also wanted to explore her own anxieties as an artist. In her previous work Bi the Way and Flames, she had experiences where artists told others' stories in ways that she felt were exploitative, and she wanted to explore whether it would be possible to tell someone else's story faithfully.

In 2014, she began a series of workshops to devise the story, based on techniques she had learned at the Pig Iron Theatre Company in Philadelphia and the School of Making Thinking. Decker, Howard, and eleven other actors met about nine different times over the course of seven months. They used improvisation to create a variety of different scenes, many of which never ended up in the final film, and explored each performer's personal experiences, such as with mental illness. Cinematographer Ashley Connor also participated in some of the workshops because Decker wanted the camera to also be treated as a character. After all the workshops, Decker sat down and wrote a script that incorporated the best scenes they had created. In one draft of the script, she included a real-life event that had happened between her and Howard, and when she realized that it had crossed a line between the character Madeline and the actual Helena Howard, she decided to take the script in a more fictional direction. Decker realized from that experience that the character Evangeline would have enjoyed crossing boundaries like that, so she started incorporating that desire into her character.[8][6][9][10]

Decker continued this collaborative style during production. At the beginning of each day of shooting, the cast and crew met for a short meditation and a chance for anyone to voice concerns they had with the production process. Many of the scenes were improvised, so Connor and gaffer David April lit the sets in such a way that the actors and camera could freely move anywhere without a light being in the shot. The visual style of the film incorporated camera techniques that Connor and Decker had discovered working on previous films together. Connor created a custom camera rig that allowed her to manipulate the focus in new ways, which Chris O'Falt of Indiewire described as "an almost liquid-like aspect to the focus, and the image if often slightly doubled or warped, while out-of-focus translucent objects come into the edges of frame to cause pockets of soft, sometimes colorful blurring."[8][10][7]

Harrison Atkins was the editor for the first four months of post production and made over a hundred different cuts of the movie exploring various ways the story could be told, but when he had to leave to work on a different show, Decker took on the editing herself. Six months went by and she still wasn't satisfied with the film, so she brought on producer Liz Rao to help with editing for five weeks. With only two weeks left until the deadline for submitting to the Sundance Film Festival, Decker realized there was still a major problem with the ending, so she brought on David Barker for some last-minute changes. Spike Jonze and Mike Mills also offered advice during post-production.[9][10][7]


Madeline's Madeline was first screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2018,[11] and the Berlin Film Festivals in February.[5] Oscilloscope Laboratories acquired U.S. distribution rights and announced plans for a general release later in the year.[12] The film initially was shown at only one theater in Manhattan, and was eventually expanded to 31 theaters.[13]


Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 88% based on 123 reviews, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Madeline's Madeline proves experimental cinema is alive and well – and serves as a powerful calling card for Helena Howard in her big-screen debut."[14] Metacritic gives the film a weighted average score of 77 out of 100, based on 31 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[15]

Writing in The Village Voice, Bilge Ebiri called Madeline's Madeline "the best thing I saw at Sundance this year".[11] IndieWire reviewer David Ehrlich described the film as "one of the boldest and most invigorating American films of the 21st century".[16] The New York Times called it a "seductive, disturbing, exasperating movie," noting it blurs the line between "fantasy and reality, certainly, but also between authenticity and artifice, theater and therapy, art and life."[17]

The film was well-received by Entertainment Weekly, which praised the "nuanced" portrayal of the protagonist and her growth as a "self-possessed" character dealing with dominating authority figures.[18] WBUR in Boston named it one of the best films of 2018, describing the plot as "three women perform an intricate psychological dance, with two locked in a vicious tug-of-war for a third's affections."[19] The Boston Globe gave it 4/5 stars and called it "stunning."[20] It received a mixed review from Variety, with the review praising how it addressed multiple issues such as identity and a "form of penance by its director, Josephine Decker, for appropriating the lives of her collaborators." However, it "mistakes intimacy for honesty, and it mis-assumes that audiences care nearly as much about the creative process as actors and directors do."[21]

In 2019, Howard's performance was hailed by IndieWire as one of the 50 best performances of the 2010s decade.[3]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result Ref(s)
Gotham Awards November 26, 2018 Audience Award Madeline's Madeline Nominated [23][24]
Best Feature Madeline's Madeline Nominated
Breakthrough Actor Helena Howard Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards February 23, 2019 Best Female Lead Helena Howard Nominated [25]
Best Cinematography Ashley Connor Nominated
Montclair Film Festival May 6, 2018 Future/now - Special Jury Prize Helena Howard Won
Sarasota Film Festival April 14, 2018 Narrative Feature Film Competition Helena Howard Won
Berlin International Film Festival February 15, 2018 C.I.C.A.E Award Josephine Decker Nominated
Champs-Élysées Film Festival June 10, 2018 Student Jury Award-Special Mention Josephine Decker Won
Champs-Élysées Film Festival June 10, 2018 Prix du Jury Josephine Decker Nominated
Cleveland International Film Festival March 29, 2019 Best American Independent Feature Film Josephine Decker Pending
Dallas International Film Festival May 3, 2018 Narrative Feature Film Competition Josephine Decker Won


  1. ^ Kaufman, Anthony (December 17, 2018). "Sundance Hits and Misses: How MoviePass, Politics and Streaming Boosted the Indie Theatrical Box Office of 2018". Filmmaker. Retrieved January 16, 2019. Budget: Mid-six figures
  2. ^ "Madeline's Madeline". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 12, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Zilko, David Ehrlich, Kate Erbland, Eric Kohn, Anne Thompson, Chris O'Falt, Tambay Obenson, Christian Blauvelt, Christian; Ehrlich, David; Erbland, Kate; Kohn, Eric; Thompson, Anne; O'Falt, Chris; Obenson, Tambay; Blauvelt, Christian; Zilko, Christian (July 23, 2019). "The 50 Best Movie Performances of the Decade". IndieWire. Retrieved August 31, 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Madeline's Madeline (2018), retrieved December 5, 2018
  5. ^ a b Young, Deborah (February 19, 2018). "'Madeline's Madeline': Film Review, Berlin 2018". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on February 20, 2018. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Ehrlich, David (August 10, 2018). "Josephine Decker Felt Like Her Movies Didn't Matter, Until She Met the Teenager Who Would Star in Her Masterpiece". Indiewire. Retrieved December 16, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Collins, K. Austin (August 23, 2018). "Josephine Decker Is Bringing Danger Back to Independent Filmmaking". Vanity Fair. Retrieved December 16, 2018.
  8. ^ a b O'Falt, Chris (August 23, 2018). "'Madeline's Madeline': Why the Dreamy Movie's Surreal Imagery Took Six Years and Many Experiments to Get Right". Indiewire. Retrieved December 16, 2018.
  9. ^ a b Mills, Mike (June 11, 2018). "Breaking Character: Josephine Decker Talks to Mike Mills about Madeline's Madeline". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved December 16, 2018.
  10. ^ a b c Nord, Liz (February 22, 2018). "'Madeline's Madeline': How Josephine Decker's 'Bad Process' Led to a Great Film". No Film School. Retrieved December 16, 2018.
  11. ^ a b Ebiri, Bilge (January 28, 2018). ""Madeline's Madeline": The Best Film I Saw at Sundance". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on January 31, 2018. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  12. ^ McNary, Dave (March 2, 2018). "Film News Roundup: Molly Parker Drama 'Madeline's Madeline' Gets Distribution". Variety. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  13. ^ Kaufman, Anthony (December 17, 2018). "Sundance Hits and Misses: How MoviePass, Politics and Streaming Boosted the Indie Theatrical Box Office of 2018". Filmmaker. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  14. ^ "Madeline's Madeline (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  15. ^ "Madeline's Madeline Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  16. ^ Ehrlich, David (January 23, 2018). "'Madeline's Madeline' Review: Josephine Decker Has Made a Mind-Scrambling Masterpiece — Sundance 2018". IndieWire. Archived from the original on February 15, 2018. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  17. ^ Scott, A.O. (August 9, 2018). "Review: In 'Madeline's Madeline,' Hazy Boundaries Between Life and Art". The New York Times. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  18. ^ Douglas, Esme (December 19, 2018). "Madeline's Madeline provided one of the year's best protagonists: a nuanced, self-possessed biracial subject". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  19. ^ "'Fresh Air' Favorites: Our Critics Pick 2018's Best Books, Movies, Music And TV". WBUR. December 18, 2018. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  20. ^ Burr, Ty (September 12, 2018). "'Madeline's Madeline' is a stunning, one-of-a-kind movie". Boston Globe. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  21. ^ Debruge, Peter (August 10, 2018). "Film Review: 'Madeline's Madeline'". Variety. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  22. ^ Madeline's Madeline, retrieved December 5, 2018
  23. ^ Sharf, Zach (October 18, 2018). "2018 Gotham Awards Nominations: 'The Favourite' and 'First Reformed' Lead the Pack". IndieWire. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  24. ^ Mandinach, Zach (October 18, 2018). "Nominations Announced for the 28th Annual IFP Gotham Awards". Independent Filmmaker Project. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  25. ^ Erbland, Kate (November 16, 2018). "2019 Independent Spirit Awards Nominees: 'Eighth Grade' & 'We the Animals' Lead". IndieWire. Retrieved November 26, 2018.

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