Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Written by Madonna and Alek Keshishian
Directed by Madonna
Starring Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy and Oscar Isaac

Wallis Simpson: You and I can only create disaster.

“Disaster” is a word that I’ve heard easily thrown around regarding Madonna’s latest film, W.E.. With the notoriously despised film actress at the helm of the project, it almost seemed like I was hearing the word before people had even seen the film. To deem a Madonna film disastrous is expected, fashionable even. And so, at the first sight of any questionable direction in the film, it would appear that the great majority of the critical world wrote it, and her, off. As negative criticism tends to be more colorful (and more enjoyable to write) and as negative reviews are more fun to read, the hate for W.E. is now rampant. Is it a great film? No, it isn’t. Is it a disaster though? Absolutely not.

W.E. is as stylish as they come. Under the watchful eye of cinematographer, Hagen Bogdanski (THE LIVES OF OTHERS) and production designer, Martin Childs (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE), it is undeniably sumptuous and rich. The imagery is then elevated to dizzying heights by an equally lustrous score by Abel Korzeniowski (A SINGLE MAN).  At times, it can all be a bit much to take, an overdose of exquisite taste and fine furniture of sorts, but Madonna’s guidance is always omnipresent, albeit somewhat heavy-handed. There is a vision though and the dramatic tones she strikes are often quite real and effective. A good director makes choices and Madonna is nothing if not decisive.

The true problems with W.E. lie with its script. As a director, Madonna shows promise; the woman clearly has an eye for beauty after all. As a writer though, she can be stiff and unfocused. Co-written with her TRUTH OR DARE director, Alek Keshishian, W.E. tells the story of one Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), a doctor’s wife whose life looks perfect from the outside but is downright abusive upon closer look. Wally is obsessed with the love affair of Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), an American divorcee, and King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy), who abdicated the thrown to be with her. Their love story was told the world over and was admired by many as one of the greatest romantic gestures in history. Feeling no love in her life, Wally takes solace at a Sotheby’s auction for the famous couple and meets a security guard (Oscar Isaac), who reminds her of how beautiful she truly is.

The connection between both story lines is a stretch most of the time and eventually goes nowhere at all. That sounds harsh but the cast are all beautiful and compelling so W.E. does engage the viewer in the end. The romantics amongst you could even very easily be swept up in it. Madonna’s decades old preoccupation with championing the plight of women who are despised the world over, in this case Wallis after she stole England’s king (and apparently showed some sympathy towards the Nazis), ultimately distracts her from the task at hand.

For my part, I have no shame admitting that I am a Madonna admirer and that this admiration in turn taints the way I see her work. Still, as a critic, there is a job to be done and I believe I’ve done it here. And so, if I can keep my bias in check, I wonder why others cannot do the same. Besides, if critics really want to see a disastrous Madonna movie, they need only watch her first effort, FILTH AND WISDOM. That’s essentially unwatchable.


Candice Frederick said...

oh boy...she should stick to he day job.

Black Sheep said...

Meh .. I think she has potential. I'm all for her branching out. She just needs to humble herself a bit more. Let the right people help her focus.