Madison Baker is moving away, and Matt Gray’s 79 minute feature film is every bit a teen girl travail. Actually four in total, the un-relatables could very easily go off the rails and leave the audience in dread of a demographic that is better seen and not heard. But Madison Baker Was Here hits the mark for this maligned group, and really has these girls taking flight.
A catchy Indie guitar riff, which is a stripped instrumental version of a Joe Getty & the Dead Flowers, sets the appropriate tone to begin our story. “I Don’t Believe” might not fly with the real Brooklyn Hipsters, but this upbeat piece and several other Joe Getty and Richard Austin’s chords sound right for cool 14 year old girls who aspire to the Burrough’s musical preeminence.
Enter Madison (Madeline L’Engle) and Cassie (Jacey Schaper). They present in a demeanor, attitude and dress that says flash and fanfare are not required. They also check the necessary boxes for the comedic/straight man act of this story. Schaper has a timing beyond her years, and L’Engle’s laid back reception of the digs gives room for the punchlines to marinate.
So to start, Madison puts a brave face on her upheaval, while Cassie sarcastically pokes holes in her best friend’s mature reaction. At the same time, there’s definitely a caring beat to Cassie’s friendship, and Schaper rises to the duality when called upon. Of course, this gaggle flies with more than two.
L’Engle’s sister Sydney plays Madison’s little sister, and the younger has all the annoying features she’s supposed to. Sticks her nose into everything and trying to eke out an advantage at every turn, Sydney L’Engle makes an endearing case for fratricide with her comedic barbs.
The obligatory self obsessed dumb blonde is next, and Sophie Jenkins stacks up as Blaire. The young actress glides through the portrayal like she was born with a phone in one hand and a mirror in the other.
Finally, Izzy Weaver plays Nina, the geeky bespectacled nerd. Weaver’s performance revels in useless information, and with an onslaught of offbeat deadpans, the teenager helps keep the comedy in play.
No need to contain this quartet, it’s Cassie with the plan. Madison’s last night in town, the mischievous 14 year old proposes that the group sneak out for a nocturnal adventure. In keeping with her place as the straight man, Madison is the voice of reason. She cannot override the force that is Cassie, though. So let the games begin.
Of course, the comedy ball continues to be swatted about with talk of boys, territorial warfare with mean girls, soulless teachers and standard fare that is reinforced with the nondescript twangs of the background music. But if Madison Baker was here, we deserve to know why, and the film doesn’t lose any points for getting to the bottom of the issues behind the laughs.
A tone that is assisted by Gray’s cinematography, the dark city shots convey a barren social and cultural landscape, while intermittent points of light peak through to illuminate how alone the girls are.
On the other hand, they do have each other. So even though the fault lines say otherwise at times, the cohesive synergy between the actresses facilitates the switching of gears. Back and forth, the comedy and seriousness coexist without detracting from each other, and happily adding Otis (DeLanoye Robertson) to the comedy troupe, the mood swings continue.
The Uber driver who the girls enlist, is a bit odd and adds some danger to the escapade. Again the dark lonely expanse raises the uncertainty, but not to worry, Robertson’s comic timing and cuddly amiability alleviates any doubts. He’s firmly aligned with the off-kilter harmlessness of everyone else.
All together, no part of the expedition is really groundbreaking. Who says it has to be? These girls are fun in their own original way, don’t overwhelm to the point where pity is expected and are real enough to care about. So without reservation, Madison Baker was definitely here, you would be smart to join the jaunt, and either way, you go girl.