Saturday 14 January 2012

W.E. Oui or Wee?

It is an understatement that cinema has not embraced Madonna in the same way that music has. Body of Evidence, Shanghai Surprise, The Next Best Thing... Despite a promising start with light and quirky comedy Desperately Seeking Susan, it all went downhill from that modest high. And she has herself party to blame, who ever thought being in a cheap Basic Instinct knock-off featuring burning wax and Willem Dafoe's balls. It has to be said however that she did win a Golden Globes best actress award for Evita.

So the Like a Virgin lady is now trying a different path in ever attempt to finally reach that ever eluding success, by turning her attention to directing. Given the polarised opinion she has always faced, it seems almost impossible for her to receive a fair reception. Fans will love it, even though she does not even star in it. Haters will have an easy ride hating it. So I shall attempt to review it fairly. despite being a big fan of her Madgesty (there, I have said it).

Well let's face it, the film is a mess, completely all over the place, especially in its directing style. It can really be seen as an interesting case study, as despite her near total lack of directing experience (most reviews bill W.E. as her first film, forgetting she directed Filth & Wisdom in 2008), it is obvious that nobody was brave enough to say no to her, or even question anything she was doing. And she tried to put too much in this film, delivering a complete mish-mash, as if you had given a $15m budget to a graduate fresh out a film school, full of unbridled ideas and influenced by his favourite directors.

There is a particularly pointless visual trick that is grating the first time round and yet is repeated ad infinitum throughout: the inclusion in the middle of scenes of some grainy footage with extreme close ups, that reminded me of scenes from the documentary In Bed With Madonna. It came as no surprise then that the name of this documentary's director came, Alek Keshishian, comes in the end credits as a scriptwriter, as he must have had more than her passing influence on her direction. And the trick of the anachronistic song on a period scene? Nice try, but it worked infinitely better in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette.

It is obvious what attracted Madonna to the story of one of the most famous divorcee, Wallis Simpson, a strong woman much like herself who had to face untold criticism for not respecting the norm and playing by her own rules. Having decided to eschew a straight biopic of Wallis, she decided to intertwine it with the modern story of a young New York woman trapped in loveless marriage and with an obsession with Wallis herself.

And this is her biggest mistake. The modern scenes, filmed like a 90's Armani advert, are at their best boring, at their worst laughable, echoing the worst of Sex & The City after it had lost all of its early bite and wit. All you need to know is that it includes a foreign security guard who turns out to be an artist, who lives in a fabulously bohemian/designer apartment that must costs about a gazillion dollars. Poor Abbie Cornish is not given much to do, but fun is to be had with her increasingly experimental hairdos.

It is a shame as, believe it or not, Madonna does show some flair with all the period scenes. Of course they do still fall victim to the curse of the perfume advert, but they are a lot more compelling and in parts, rather enjoyable and touching, feeling the audience even more frustrated that the film did not just focus on them. It does help that Andrea Risborough gives a fantastic performance as Wallis Simpson. I just could not believe that this was the same young fragile woman from the recent Brighton Rock remake and is by far the best part in the film. She brings in depth and subtlety to her part, and is instrumental in the film success of making her character likeable, despite what The King's Speech would have you believe of her. And she is given some very decent support from James D'Arcy as Kind Edward who was to abdicate for her.

If she tightens up her directing style, it is perfectly possible that Madonna might actually direct a good film in the near future. As for this genuine oddity, I will just conclude by saying that for all its flaws, I enjoyed it a lot more than The King's Speech. But then I have seen YouTube cat videos that had more cinematic ideas and originality that the cinema equivalent of lukewarm water that was the 2011's Oscar's best film winner.

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