By Adam Birch | Drama
A young girl is invited to the popular-kids party. But she has to make a choice.

Madeline is a young girl struggling to find her footing in her class, dealing with mean girls, social exclusion and other forms of pre-teen social torture. But she finds warmth and acceptance in the solid, caring relationship she has with her mom.

But when Madeline is invited by Sophie to a party with the popular kids, she must decide between the comfort of home or the perils of social acceptance — and finds herself on the borderline between childhood and adolescence.

Written and directed by Adam Birch, this sensitive and finely drawn short drama captures a small but pivotal choice in a young girl’s life. In its naturalism and documentary-like immediacy, the film functions like a slice-of-life snapshot, where the small, ordinary moments of life actually reveal themselves to be full of portent and meaning.

The narrative structure is essentially a two-hander, confined to one extended scene with two characters in one setting, and the story develops an unhurried sense of intimacy between Madeline and her mother, who are cooking in the kitchen. Madeline relays her difficulties dealing with the group of popular girls, and to comfort her, her mother offers her time to make some of their favorite foods together.

As they talk, viewers can see that Madeline, as portrayed by young actor Sara Deodhar is somewhere between little kid and tween. She can sound both childlike and precocious, sometimes in the same sentence, and she doesn’t have the strikingly mature poise that one can imagine the popular clique has.

Her wants also seem to oscillate between the poles of childhood and a burgeoning independence. She seems happiest and most secure with her mother, played with great warmth and patience by actor Rachel Byer. And when popular girl Sophie calls to invite her out, we can hear Madeline’s combination of hopefulness, relief and wariness. Combined with the shadowy profile shot that the phone conversation plays out in, we sense Madeline is about to enter a new world, psychologically far from the safe, cozy environs of the family kitchen.

“Madeline” ends right after the titular character makes her choice, leaving the film on an uneasy, wistful note. We don’t get to see the consequences of Madeline’s decision, nor do we get answers for the questions that have arisen. Are Sophie and her friends genuine in their interest in Madeline? Are they planning a prank on her, in the way that popular mean girls can? Is this a genuine new beginning? Viewers get the sense that Madeline and perhaps even her mother are filled with similar anxieties, but there is also a feeling of inevitability. No matter how much it’s put off, growing up is inevitable, and perhaps the pains that accompany it.

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