W.E. don’t hate
I’ll spare everyone a Madonna-song pun and just get right to the point. Besides, the pop-icon has kindly asked critics not to review her as, well, the pop icon. Fair enough. I’ll focus on the film, “W.E.”, and its director – somebody named Madonna.
First thing’s first. This movie isn’t as tragic as critics are making it out to be. It’s stylishly done, well-acted, the costumes were brilliant and the music was practically a character within itself. With that said, though, the script (co-written by Madonna and Alek Keshishian) leaves me wishing Madonna’s meticulous attention to detail was spent on more important things like, I don’t know, a simpler plot.
“W.E.” toggles between two time periods: The late 1930’s and the late 1990’s. Stay with me. The fictional modern day story features Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), an ex Sotheby’s researcher who now plays the dotting housewife to über-wealthy Dr. William Winthrop (Richard Coyle). Sounds nice, but it ain’t. You see, Wally’s stuck in a sexless, abusive marriage. She escapes by feeding her obsession over King Edward and his mistress, Wallis Simpson. Wally spends most of her time at Sotheby’s pining over a Russian security guard (Oscar Isaac) as well as the Duke and the Dutchess’ possessions – a cigarette holder, a pair of earrings, candlesticks; you get the gist. These auctioned items not only serve as a commentary on today’s superficiality but they become a device to transport us to the main characters of the film: W. and E.
Cut to 1936 where American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and her beau du jour, King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy), begin a very unroyal-like affair. The tawdry relationship sends the entire family into quite a tizzy and, of course, they all disapprove. Much to everyone’s dismay, the Heir abandons his duties as King and follows his heart instead. He decides to give up everything for the woman he loves. Sweet.
Unlike Ms. Cornish’s flat performance, Riseborough’s take on Wallis is fresh, sassy and down-right lovable. I can certainly see why the King passionately gave up his throne for her. Surprisingly, the movie really isn’t about “the greatest romance of the 20th century”. Rather it’s a chance to yank off the lavish linen and unveil the ugly side of their relationship. True, King Edward sacrificed quite a lot for Wallis but what did she have to give up to be with him? Turns out, silly fairy tales are just that – silly. The main point of the film is that “History” hastily deemed Wallis as a gold-digging villain rather than a human being. Now, this is interesting. This is what Madonna should’ve focused on. Instead she spends more than half the movie cutting back to Wally, making it hard for us to fully invest in what truly would have been a fantastic piece on its own. I understand that Wally’s viewpoint serves as a safe way to slightly rewrite the past but it’s not needed. If Madonna wanted to tell the story from that point of view, she should have done so without hiding behind Wally.
Madonna, the director, has potential. You can easily see her influence from well-known muses like Fellini, Godard, and even Guy Ritchie. At times, she over does it by distracting us with jumps of grainy, hand-held close up shots (mostly reserved for high-end fashion commercials). Truth is, the steadycam scenes are elegant, subtle and far more effective on their own. But with time, a better script, and a bit more confidence, Madonna won’t need to rely on such gimmicks. And that might, one day, make her shine-like a ray of light. (Okay, I had to get one pun in there.)