By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, August 24, at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.
Finally, something with some fucking guts! This is my first experience with the cinema of Josephine Decker (although I hear good things about Butter On the Latch and Thou Wast Mild and Lovely), so perhaps I just wasn’t prepared for such a fluid collision of dream, reality and performance, but this movie knocked my socks clean off. The film stars powerhouse newcomer Helena Howard as Madeline, a biracial, bullied teenager leaning away from her overbearing mother Regina (Miranda July) and towards her earthy yet subtly exploitative acting teacher Evangeline (Molly Parker). Madeline’s Madeline crackles with strange and unpredictable energy from the first moments and rarely lets up, forcing us to determine from scene to scene and shot to shot whether we’re watching a fantasy or a documentary, an acting exercise or an exhibition of mental illness. First-timer Howard is rightly getting lauded for a lead turn that is ferocious, wounded, theatrical and internal all at once, and as far as I’m concerned, she gives the best female performance of the year so far (sadly, Howard’s family has fallen on hard times, so please consider donating to their GoFundMe page). However, Parker and July also give award-worthy performances as Madeline’s mother figures – July’s awkward and uncomfortable movements during a mirroring exercise is the body acting we should be rewarding, not Emma Stone clomping through choreography or Margot Robbie CGI-ed onto a figure skater’s body.