In a parallel universe the adjectives: masterpiece, enchanting, beautiful and coherent would all be usable blandishments to describe pop singer sensation Madonna‘s new film W.E. However, we do not live in a parallel universe, therefore the only logical words one could use to describe W.E., the new film by perhaps the worst filmmaker ever to walk this earth: Madonna, are: staggeringly misjudged, infuriatingly revisionist, blindingly stupid and stomach evacuatingly terrible.
News of W.E.‘s frankly appalling qualities have been coming at us since September, when the film was collectively trashed by just about every single critic in attendance at the Venice Film Festival. The delight many took in metaphorically rubbing the film’s face in pig faeces seemed at the time a tad sadistic, but now having seen W.E. I can tell you it got all the shit throwing it deserved. If by the end of 2012, this isn’t number 1 on my Worst Films of the Year list then I will actually give up and go live in a cave.
Effectively, the film attempts to chart the story of the romance between Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII or David (as he was known before he was crowned) and then compare it with the relationship between Wallie Winthrop and an oh-so sensitive Russian security guard in 1998 New York. This is done through the process of intercutting, so in one scene we would be in the sumptuous, stiff upper lipped 1930’s England and the next we would be in the much more angst ridden 90’s New York.
It is a film that is wantonly out of control and has no clue how to balance its competing story lines, favouring in the end to treat them both equally when the contemporary story serves no purpose other than to laboriously offer some pretentious meaning to the Wallis and Edward romance. In the almost modern day, we have Abbie Cornish playing Wallie, a woman obsessed to a point of creepiness with the whole Wallis and Edward affair, which as she delves into deeper Wallie finds fascination with the deep nature of love felt between W and E and how she is struggling to find something compared to that.
The romance between Cornish’s Wallie and Oscar Isaac‘s Evgeni is cliche ridden and embarrassing. It is irritating beyond belief just on a character/plot level but Madonna‘s constant editing back and forth between Wallie’s discovery of Wallis and the Wallis/Edward story only makes it worse. I’m no fan of Titanic but could you imagine how bad it could have been had Cameron continually cut back to the Old Rose without any logical reason? Or if Tim Burton decided at numerous moments in Edward Scissorhands to flash forward to Winona Ryder in latex re-telling the story of lost love to her grandchild? It would have been unbearably annoying and that is essentially W.E. It also detracts the redeeming qualities from the period half of the story, which isn’t that good either.
Then you have the Wallis and Edward romance section of the story which is problematic on political and stylistic levels despite the fact that it contains two, good (but not great) performances from Andrea Riseborough as Wallis and James D’Arcy as Edward. I restrict them to just good because they still have to contend with some atrocious dialogue which at no point begins to establish the period they are set in and leaves them talking as if they are occupying London in the 90’s. Madonna is primarily to blame for this (she co-wrote the infernal thing), and she knows that she can’t write because this part also suffers from a creative power who realises she doesn’t know anything beyond aesthetics.
The Wallis and Edward storyline looks sumptuous, the costumes are excellent, the cinematography is self knowingly gorgeous and the music is heightened and passionate, but this very thick layer of surface fails to hide that at the centre of it there is no depth. Madonna hides behind her flashy camera moves and beautiful gowns because there is nowhere else to sit and cower. But anyone in their right mind and with any critical faculty would be able to recognise that this over the top sheen is nothing more than a facade.
All that being said, the main issue I have with this section and the film in its entirety is the Mel Gibson re-writing of history. The film has a very dewy eyed view on the whole Wallis and Edward affair, painting Mrs. Simpson as a wilting flower who in every possible way was perfect when actually, popular consensus has taught us that she was a spiky persona, loathed by most of the royal establishment because by all accounts the main reason she was with Edward was for the prestige. The reason he was forced to abdicate the throne was because she had yet to divorce from her husband and the monarchy couldn’t have that.
The film also gleefully leaps over, in a morally repugnant way, the fact that Edward was a much reported, self confessed Nazi sympathiser. In a very Josef Stalin like method, Madonna has sculpted the romance of Wallis and Edward and their private lives to entirely fit her argument. She peddles the idea that both of them were completely perfect and morally angelic. When challenged about this, her only defence was “the truth is subjective” which it categorically isn’t when the truth: Edward VIII met Hitler and agreed with much of what he said, was so well known and reported. Madonna’s subjectivity is morally dubious and just plain shameful.
The Weinstein’s were initially keen to push the film for awards recognition, due to some King’s Speech similarities, and they have been rightfully rejected. Despite the fact Madonna won a Golden Globe for the terrible song that closes her terrible film, the only significant awards showing it will make is at the Razzies, where hopefully the film will clean up the categories and convince Madonna to never direct or write something ever again. This movie is simply appalling.
W.E. is staggeringly misjudged, infuriatingly revisionist, blindingly stupid and stomach evacuatingly terrible.