Add another name to the list of talented and charismatic young actresses of color making auspicious debuts of late: Helena Howard, star of director and co-writer Josephine Decker’s simultaneously attractive and repellent mindjob. Attractive because of Howard’s convincing portrayal of the mentally fractured titular teenager: the periods of near-normalcy that slip with dizzying ease into frightening extremity, the painful attempts at ordinary social interaction, the displays of deep need that give way to unalloyed resentment for those who find themselves taking care. Repellent because such a portrayal is genuinely hard to watch: there is no freedom on display, no heroism to cheer or villainy to condemn — only suffering to endure as an unhappy girl thwarts her own attempts at happiness. (Also confusing to watch, which may be fitting.) Attractive also because of the grownups in the picture: mom Regina (Miranda July, long-suffering) and newly discovered mother figure Evangeline (Molly Parker, voracious). Evangeline runs an arty theater troupe, and in her longing for stunning significance, she finds herself increasingly attracted to Madeline’s intense — not to say theatrical — inner life. And now we’re back to repellent: an artist whose artistic impulse blinds her to the the actual people she uses — not to say exploits — to make her art. Not that Madeline minds, mind you. Evangeline affirms where Regina scolds, after all. Her affection seems freely given and free of judgment, because what she wants is so different from what Mom wants. It’s also, ultimately, more destructive.
Length: 1 hour, 33 minutes