W.E.

26 Dec

Title: W.E.
Year: 2011
Director: Madonna
Writers: Madonna and Alek Keshishian
Starring: Abbie Cornish, James D’Arcy, Andrea Riseborough, Oscar Isaac
MPAA Rating: R, some domestic violence, nudity and language
Runtime: 119 min
IMDb Rating: 4.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 31%
Metacritic: 38

I remember months ago people were speculating that W.E. would maybe be an awards contender, citing the performance by Andrea Riseborough and the costume design as stuff that could garner some Oscar nominations. I took all of that with a grain of salt because there was still Madonna’s name attached as director and co-writer of this film, and Madonna and film is not something I could ever take all that seriously. And, it turns out my gut feeling was right, as W.E. fizzled in its debut at this year’s Venice Film Festival, and now, upon actually seeing it, I can confirm those reviews, this film is pretty damn bad. Though, at the same time, it’s also pretty much the film you’d think someone like Madonna would make, because as bad as it is, it’s a pretty kind of mess, with stuff to like for the eyes and for the ears, but absolutely nothing of anything resembling substance with which to back it all up. Like she said herself, she’s the material girl.

The film intersects the stories of two women, one named Wally and the other named Wallis. Abbie Cornish plays Wally, her story is set in 1998 when she’s obsessed with the love story of King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne in order to marry the woman he loved, the Ameican divorcée Wallis Simpson. However, as she starts spending a lot of her life in the New York of late last century to research about a couple that lived six decades prior, going to auctions of the Windsor Estate to find out more, she starts realizing that maybe her favorite couple didn’t exactly live out that perfect love story she had been idealizing. So the film starts criss-crossing between Wally, played by Abbie Cornish who had been so good in Jane Campion’s Bright Star two years ago, and between the life of Wallis and Edward (the initials from which the title comes from), who are played by Andrea Riseborough and James D’Arcy, following their relationship across the decades.

But just how overly complicated this film makes things for itself is just a huge pity, as it never rises past the levels of a really mediocre historical drama. It’s kind of a silly film, really, with Madonna giving us her wanderings about what love means and at what cost it sometimes comes. And I say silly because it gets to the point to which when Wally takes a bath you see Wallis take a bath, and then it takes it to a whole other level and actually has Wallis actually appearing to Wally and having conversations. I didn’t hate the film mostly because you just can’t hate it, it’s just too pretty and insignificant to hate, you just have to bear with it, think of it as something Madonna did to kill time between albums, giving us a film that goes out of its way, getting all tangled up in itself, to deliver some kind of mystical love connection between two women we couldn’t really care less about whether they’re connected or not. I still don’t know what the hell Wally was doing in this film, it would have been better without her in it as a straight-up biopic if you ask me.

The performance by Ms. Riseborough is actually quite good, and if the film itself had been somewhat decent maybe she would indeed be part of the awards discussion, because she’s good as Wallis Simpson, she gives her layers this film does nothing with but the performance is still tremendously enjoyable and the one part of the film I can actually recommend. I mean I can recommend the visual stuff, the costumes by Arianne Phillips (who did the ones for A Single Man and got an Oscar nod for Walk the Line) and the cinematography by Hagen Bogdanski (who did The Lives of Others); but the fact of the matter is that there’s nothing to hold on to as far as plot. I mean, as much as it tries to seem fancy and trips over itself by going back and forth between timelines, once it’s all said and done the film is actually saying that if you have a good man by your side to love you then you have it all, or something along those lines, it’s just super dumb and simple and not worth spending two hours watching.

To me, W.E. ultimately was Madonna just doing something for her own amusement, and the Wally character is kind of like her alter-ego in the film. I won’t go into details of the plot because I just didn’t care for it, all I’ll is that at an auction at Sotheby’s Wally meets a Russian security guard who falls for her, and Madonna spends much of her time erasing opinions about the famous couple having been Nazi sympathizers. There are actually bits in which Madonna’s hand isn’t intruding for a minute or two and Ms. Riseborough actually provides a good scene, and maybe if a regular biopic had been made the film would be okay, but the thing is that the Queen of Pop is just concentrated in amping up the craziness of this whole ordeal, and the result is a film that’s seriously forgettable from a woman who used to be on top but that seems to be on the declining end of her career and refusing to realize it.

Grade: C

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