Coming of age happens all in one night in Madison Baker Was Here. 14-year-old Madison (Madeline L’Engle) is moving from California to Kansas tomorrow morning as her father relocates for a new job. Her squad, led by rebellious and fearless Cassie (Jacey Schaper), insists she slips out of the house for an impromptu going away adventure.
Madison makes a Faustian deal with her sister Paige (Madeline’s real-life sister Sydney L’Engle), to keep the outing a secret from her father, Walt (Joe Getty). In exchange for Paige’s silence, Madison must surrender her phone to her until the night is over. Paige becomes a co-conspiring accomplice, and there is a classic comedy scenario in the house with her covering for Madison all night.
Co-writer/ director Matt Gray channels John Hughes more than once as the ladies start their crazy night in the one place they hate the most: their high school. They wind up riding around with Otis (DeLanoye Robertson), a kindly man they assume is a rideshare driver when they pile into his SUV. Cassie busts out the vodka she swiped from her parents, and they all try it. Nina (Izzie Weaver) is the shy, pretty nerd hiding behind her huge glasses who winds up being the engine of craziness, while Blair (Sophie Jenkins) insists on constantly snapping selfies and live streaming their antics for her continuous online show she calls Where’s Blair?
“…Madison is moving from California to Kansas…she slips out of the house for an impromptu going away adventure.”
Their group customs include a variation of Truth or Dare called Truth or Death. Since they are too young to die, it’s always Truth, and on this night, some painful truths come out, and each of them must grow up, perhaps before intending to. Cassie blurts out that she’s particularly panicked about Madison leaving, and they must reconcile their friendship to a future apart. One embarrassing truth that Madison confesses is her school crush, and the vision quest for the night becomes to find him and tell him, in the words of Juliet (a part she was passed over for in the school play), that he is her Romeo, before she leaves forever the next morning.
Think of the film as Ferris Bueller’s Dazed and Confused Breakfast Club (only at night). That might sound like a criticism, but those are stories we know and love. Most filmmakers (there have been many) who have tried to capture the emotional essence of them through imitation have fallen flat. It takes real skill and emotional intelligence to shoot for that vibe and hit it squarely on target, which Gray does.
The limited budget here doesn’t detract from the film at all. This is Indie done right (including help from a crowdfunding campaign). All of the budget is on screen in the polished camerawork, editing, and soundtrack. However, as impressive as the production quality is, that doesn’t get you a great movie. Madison Baker Was Here succeeds because the characters are remarkably well-drawn, distinct from each other, and all compelling. The performances of the young actors are impeccable, and they inhabit a script that takes the audience where we need to go to feel the pain of the impending separation of best friends.
To see this genre done so well as a low budget Indie reminds us why we love the movies. Sometimes the lightning strikes just right.
"…succeeds because the characters are remarkably well-drawn..."