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Here is a gigantically risky film about emotional development and theatrical performance, swinging wildly from the end of the limb that it’s just gone out on. I can quite see why some might find it insufferable. Yet I found it absorbing and weirdly moving.
Newcomer Helena Howard plays Madeline, an emotionally troubled teenager who has joined a radically experimental physical theatre company, run by charismatic Evangeline (Molly Parker). With absolute lack of self-consciousness and passionate commitment, Madeline throws herself into improvising being a cat, or a sea turtle, crawling and purring around the apartment at home.
Soon Evangeline is deeply impressed with her new star and is planning to devise a project around her, perhaps centring it on Madeline’s recent experiences in the psychiatric ward, and even bringing her increasingly alarmed mother, Regina (Miranda July), into the show. But Regina fears that this theatre project, so far from being therapeutic, may simply accelerate Madeline into another episode. Madeline’s attitude to her new mentor or quasi-mother figure is itself complex; it is never entirely clear if what we see on screen is actually happening or if Madeline is imagining it.
For any British person watching this film’s rehearsal scenes, it is impossible not to remember Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie’s sketch about theatre types gathering from the buttocks, and I am someone who instinctively sympathises with Laurence Olivier in the legendary anecdote about telling Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man to “try acting, dear boy”. And yet there is something arresting about these sequences; they are presented with such force. And where are we going with it all? Who exactly is heading for a breakdown? And is heading for a breakdown the point anyway?
The movie’s tone and its narrative arc are intriguingly elusive. At various times, it resembles Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York and Alan Parker’s Fame. It’s an immersive and exotic experience. Howard is a revelation.
Source: The Guardian
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