#Crucial21DbW: Madeline’s Madeline directed by Josephine Decker

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I can’t tell a story that isn’t true.

I’ve repeated this a thousand times, excusing my artistic inactivity. For years, I used art as a public outlet, expressing my experiences directly, and I shared things that probably should have stayed between me and my therapist.

I can’t help but squirm while watching the titular character in Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline try to balance these battling responsibilities. The film itself was born of this very struggle. It’s truly lightning in a bottle, where the form is intrinsic to the content, and vice versa. In a shared pursuit of creative catharsis, young Madeline must learn to protect herself and take ownership of her experiences, despite being misled and exploited.

Madeline's Madeline
Madeline's Madeline

At a time when people are questioning which stories can be told by whom, and whose perspectives can be trusted, this film couldn’t be more pertinent. Its very inception is an experiment in telling someone else’s story faithfully—without exploitation. It contributes as much to this cultural conversation as the works of Sean Baker (The Florida Project, Tangerine) or Jennifer Fox (The Tale).

But Madeline works beyond this thesis, exploring the relationship between a student who needs more than a mentor and a mentor with a lot to learn. Every moment of the mother/daughter dynamic is mercilessly sobering. The movie captures an experience of mental illness that seems to me, a mentally ill person, both uniquely individual and universally truthful, two imperative features of good representation.

Madeline's Madeline

I can’t tell a story that isn’t true.

It sounds deceptively like wisdom, but it’s actually something to overcome. This film carries an essential lesson for all young creatives: that art is no substitute for therapy. Truth can be found in any story, as I’m sure I’ve found my own in this one. From the smallest sideways glance to the most surreally stylized moments, Madeline is one of the truest stories I’ve ever seen.

Madeline’s Madeline is available to stream on Amazon and Vudu. Follow Josephine Decker on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and her website.

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