Tag Archives: mental illness


20 May
Fourteen - Grasshopper Film

A sharp, clever character study revolving around two friends whose relationship takes on varying shades (ever darker) over a 10-year period. In “Fourteen,” streaming from The Brattle Theatre​’s Virtual Screening Room, what initially looks wholesome and organic becomes something forged more out of matters of necessity, guilt and obligation.

When we first meet Mara (Tallie Medel) and Jo (Norma Kuhling) they’re young Brooklynites with bright futures. Jo is statuesque and stark in style, form and attitude, especially compared with Maria, who’s petite, pixieish and demurring. They’re Mutt and Jeff in more ways than one. Early on we think we understand the balance; Maria works as a kindergarten school teacher, while Jo allegedly is a social worker but seems to be always out of work for one technicality or another. Her ostensible dysfunction and bad situation pools and expands as we drop in on the pair in various settings (a spare apartment, a dinner party, broad windowed cafe or sitting on a park bench) getting snapshots of the evolution of their relationship. And there’s men, and sex, always there but never as important as the Jo and Maria dynamic, its inherent camaraderie and edgy jealousy.

In one drop-in, Jo quips to Maria, just back from an unsatisfactory date, “You know you have a tendency to think people are insulting you when they try to fuck you.” It’s an odd exchange, but you’re on the edge of your seat trying to dissect and plumb. You learn the title of the film is the age that Jo is diagnosed with certain mental disorders, the kind that slip under the radar and manifest themselves in bigger, more problematic ways as they become pillars of the formed adult.

Made for less than $100,000 by critic and writer Dan Sallit, “Fourteen” is a lo-fi wonder, long on talk and short on setting – the kind of small, intimate film John Cassavetes used to make. Sallit’s big win here are his two impressive leads, who should see their stock soar. They and the film have likely triumphed in ways that might not have come about without Covid-19.

Madeline’s Madeline

23 Sep

‘Madeline’s Madeline’: Brattle selects stunner showing surreal, fraught battle for girl’s mind


Image result for madeline's madeline

Programing matters, and The Brattle Theatre, the plucky “film school” of Harvard Square, has scored some arthouse coups in the past few years. Take “Linda, Linda, Linda” in 2005, “Margaret” in 2011 or even “Upstream Color” and “Snowpiercer” in 2013 – and now “Madeline’s Madeline.” None of those films played an area franchise theater; they were astutely picked out and exhibited by the Brattle programing staff. And they all were hailed by local critics, some even called the best films of their respective years.

In light of the #MeToo moment and in context with the Brattle’s revived “Focus On Cinema Made By, For And About Women” and the Boston Women’s Film Festival kicking off at month’s end, the timing of “Madeline’s Madeline“ couldn’t be more apt. It’s directed by a woman (Josephine Decker, capturing lightning in a bottle) and revolves around three strong female characters. It’s experimental in its treatment of dialogue and hypnotically gauzy imagery, emulating the perspective of an actor in an improv acting collaborative – or perhaps someone who’s suffering from mental illness. It also has a lot to say subtly on race.

The challenge is to stay with it, letting the initial “Persona”-esque disorientation wear away to near “Beasts of the Southern Wild” surreality. There’s also a splash of “Mother!” wildness in there, but it’s fresh and new; my comparisons may be spot on and are irrelevant just the same.

What to know? Madeline (amazing newcomer Helena Howard), a biracial teen, lives with her white mom (quirky actress/writer/director Miranda July, amazingly taking on the straight role here). Dad is nowhere in sight. Both likely have some degree of mental illness, and there’s early signs of abuse (the who, how and why of which are shocking). Given all the unhappiness, Madeline basically lives for her after-school theater troupe, led by a freckled matriarch by the name of Evangeline (Molly Parker, super effective in helping drive the film). Her big idea for the culminating workshop piece is taking pieces of Madeline’s dysfunctional and toxic relationship with her mom and her illness and putting it on stage as a form of therapy, complete with pig masks and a re-created psych ward experience. A battle for control of Madeline’s soul looms between July’s Regina and Evangeline, but Madeline’s far beyond them in the game.

As the film comes more into focus, it be rawer and deeper. Madeline hosts a porn-torture watch party in the basement and later sips wine at Evangeline’s house and has a charged conversation with her husband, and you wonder at each turn where it’s going to go and when the bottom’s going to drop out. It’s an immersion into an addled point of view, and riveting. You can’t look away – every frame adds layer, and there’s so much going on internally that Decker gets out in brilliant visuals, perfectly underscored with moody aural accompaniment.

If you want something new and different yet affecting, well, here it is. Decker will be on tap for the 7 p.m. Saturday screening. The Brattle’s run of “Madeline’s Madeline” has been held over – originally intended to end its run Thursday, it will now show through Sept. 24.