Wednesday, February 29, 2012

W.E. (2011)

Written by Madonna & Alex Keshishian

Directed by Madonna

Where & When: Mann Chinese 6, Hollywood, CA. February 20.2012  7:30PM

Madonna may not be the best singer out there but that certainly didn't stop her from becoming one of the biggest pop stars in music history. And while she is far from being a great actor, that didn't prevent her from winning a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her performance in the film adaption of the Broadway musical, "Evita".

Now Madonna is looking for a new challenge, so why not directing a film? It doesn't appear to be that hard, right?

I didn't see her 2008 first feature film, "Filth and Wisdom", mainly because I didn't hear a lot of positive things about it but I did venture out to see the follow-up, "W.E." for which Madonna has, once again, directed, produced and co-written. A glossy but vacuous fiction about a modern young woman's obsession about the controversial romance of  The Duke and Duchess of Windsor in the 1930's which should have given the pop star director an opportunity to create a riveting, dramatic love story but instead the emphasis seemed to be placed more on the fabulous jewelry the Duchess was wearing.

This story involves Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), a beautiful and stylish New Yorker, who appears to have gotten everything she wanted. Married to a handsome, successful doctor (Richard Coyle)  and trying to start a family, it all seems perfect, however, her husband's work consumes all of his time but Wally suspects he is actually having an affair and the couple is having difficulty trying to conceive which brings additional stress to their relationship.

Lonely and depressed, Wally spends hours looking at the exhibition of the estate of Wallis Simpson shortly before going to auction. As she daydreams about the seemingly ideal love affair of Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and the future King of England, Edward (James D'Arcy), we learn that the couple's relationship was actually quite perplexing and impractical.

Wallis was happily married to her second husband, Ernest Simpson (David Harbour) before she was introduced to Edward through a friend who just happened to be dating the Prince. The unlikely pair quietly spend as much time together as possible before it blossomed into an intense and passionate affair. After King Edward VIII passes away, Prince Edward is next in line for the crown. Edward insists on making Wallis his Queen but the British government will never allow a divorced American to take a place by his side. Not being able to bear the thought of a life without the woman he loves, Edward abdicates the throne.

A Russian security guard (Oscar Isaac) at the auction house notices Wally and how often she appears at the exhibit. They soon become friendly as he becomes a kind and handsome shoulder for her to lean on during a difficult time in her marriage and much like the story she's obsessed with, Wally soon finds herself in a complicated situation.

 "W.E." plays like a really long music video, full of glittering, highly-stylized images and magnificent camerawork but the use of different film stock in the same scenes and the choppy editing seems arbitrary and adds nothing beyond simply looking cool. The film is completely devoid of any real emotion or believable characters (most especially the non-fictional) as the screenplay (co-written with Alex Keshishian who was the director of  the documentary, "Truth Or Dare" that peeked behind the crazy life of Madonna during the height of her fame) which clumsily attempts to merge the two stories; one based on fact while the other is trite fiction. There is an amazing lack of subtlety or depth to be found as we witness exact moments recreated by Wally and Wallis, sixty years apart, such as both writing on a mirror in lipstick which becomes an unimaginative way to express some sort of deep connection between the two women. Perhaps Wally is supposed to be Simpson reincarnated? That might have been more interesting idea than the stale story that was created. While "W.E." is not exactly dull but it's all so serious and heavy-handed that even a little light humor would have helped considerably.

Ms Cornish,  the Australian actress who first captured attention with her turn in Jane Campion's 2009 film, "Bright Star", does the best she can with her underdeveloped character but manages to breathe a little life in to Wally. Ms Riseborough, who is actually British, is the best thing in the film as she brings grace and charm in her portrayal as the American Simpson.

All of the heavy lifting in "W.E." was done by Arianne Phillips, Madonna's long-time personal costume designer, who received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her extensively detailed work on this film as well as Huw Arthur who was overlooked for a nomination for the exquisite art direction.

The director spent a considerable amount of time focusing on the impeccable look for "W.E." but not nearly enough creating a competent or engaging narrative. Why a British king would give up his crown for the love of a plain-featured, twice-divorced, American socialite is certainly an intriguing romance that deserves to be told but "W.E." does not even come close to doing justice to their fascinating but complicated story.