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Sunday, June 10, 2012

W.E.

Hey, I almost forgot to have my say on Madonna's "Masterpiece"!


W.E. has clearly evoked a variety of reactions in people - or at least the handful of people who actually saw the retched thing - but most reviews seem to lean towards it being either the worst film ever made or a wonderfully evocative piece of cinema. Personally, I'm going to have to go for the middle ground. Or, if not the middle ground, then at least leaning towards the former while still admitting to enough redeeming qualities to stop it from being anywhere near as bad as, oh I don't know, Swept Away.

That's right. I'm no Madonna fan. Her  music leaves me cold and, though I haven't seen her previous directorial effort, her involvement in that Guy Ritchie abomination, Swept Away, is enough to ensure that I would have been quite happy to never have the words "film" and "Madonna" mentioned in the same sentence together ever, ever, ever again.

Credit where credit's due though, W.E. may be mostly pretty damn bad, but Her Royal Madgeness has enough visual style to hold, even if just barely, the viewers attention throughout. She has also surrounded herself with enough grade-A talent in front of the camera that it becomes all but impossible to write her film off as nothing but a vacuous vanity project. It is a vacuous vanity project, yes, but at least it's an aesthetically attractive vanity project that is also fortunate enough to contain on-screen performances that range between stellar (Andrea Riseborough) and perfectly solid (pretty much everyone else).  


It is a bad film, though. Make no mistake about that. I hate to pull up the "historically innacuracies" card because, hey, this is ultimately a fiction that also happens to be based on people and events I knew very little about going in. However, even the most cursory of research reveals just how far Madonna has stretched the truth. Forget A Beautiful Mind (which actually I still have a fair amount of time for despite similar accusations of, shall we say, "reality bending"), this is a "based on a true story" film that twists, stretches and contorts the truth so far beyond "creative license" that you could almost hear the film snap under its own absurd revisionist history.

Still, revisionist history can be forgiven if it serves a greater storytelling purpose but the biggest failing of W.E. isn't just that it doesn't serve a greater storytelling purpose, but that it seems to be entirely lacking in ANY purpose whatsoever. At least, none that is even remotely apparent based on what is happening on screen. Splitting a narrative is usually a hazardous occupation at the best of times that really should only be left to the professionals but, apparently, no one bothered to tell Madonna that. Not only does she make use of two "parallel" story lines, happening at different times at history, to two entirely different people, she also tries to tie them together with some of the most laughably inept gee-aren't-we-all-the-same thematic wrangling that I've seen in a long, long time.        

W.E. is apparently about the parallel stories of a modern day woman (Abbie Cornish) who is dissatisfied with her lot in life as only the truly wealthy can be and the notorious story of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII (he, who abdicated the thrown thanks to his dalliance with she, a married American woman... oh and his apparent Nazi sympathies... but don't worry about that, the film sure as hell doesn't). In theory it's all about Cornish's character trying to find refuge in the "fairy tale" story of W and E (geddit?), only to find out that there was nothing fairy tale-istic about their story. I know, who would have thought? The problem is that you're never really sure where you're supposed to look between the two stories. Is it a story about this modern woman, with Wallace Simpson's story as a(n immensely dubious) framing device or is it the story of Wallis Simpson with the modern day tale as its (immensely pointless) framing device. Who knows and frankly, thanks to some truly shoddy storytelling, characterization and dialogue, who the hell cares?    


So no, W.E. isn't as bad as you may have heard but don't let the pretty pictures and cool, if anachronistic (again, why? and huh?) soundtrack fool you, the fact that Madonna named the original song that she composed for the film "Masterpiece" is every bit as ironic as you would expect.

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