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[info]lilithilien wrote
on November 23rd, 2012 at 06:51 pm

Review: W.E.

Heaven knows I'll watch anything about Wallis Simpson and Edward. I even enjoyed that nonsense that Steven Campbell-Moore and Joelly Richardson did a few years back. So I'd been wanting to see W.E., Madonna's directing/scriptwriting debut, since it came out. I just watched it, and... I am confused.

Madonna's intentions in terms of plot were pretty clear, and pretty worthy, in my opinion. On the one hand, she wanted to deconstruct "the greatest love story" and show what Wallis, as well as Edward, gave up; on the other hand, she wanted to debunk the myths surrounding Wallis (slut, Nazi, golddigger, etc.) and show her as a real woman.

Either of these would have made an interesting film. By refusing to pick and stick with one, the film leaves you wondering why Wallis would have made all the sacrifices she did. Wallis' motivations are never really clear; you can see that she enjoys Edward's company, but when weighed against the trouble she went through, it doesn't seem worth it. Edward himself is portrayed as weak and pampered and thoroughly unattractive (although not nearly as much as Bertie, who's dominated by Natalie Dormer's Elizabeth with an exaggerated lisp and a commanding tone, and left fanning himself with a lady's fan because he's so discombobulated - really, can we not get beyond these caricatures? Can this story not be told without this hyperbole?).

The result is messy, really messy. And that's made so, so very much worse by the addition of a modern-day parallel: a bored socialite who is equally obsessed with Wallis Simpson and with getting pregnant by her philandering husband. This second story was a complete waste of time, pulling us away from what might have managed to successfully accomplish one, possibly both, of Madonna's goals. It didn't help that the modern-day socialite, played by Abby Cornish, delivers her entire side of the film without ever changing her facial expression even once, or that Richard Coyle will always be Geoffrey from Coupling, not a sexy high-powered doctor, or that the contrivances of this side of the "plot" caused the socialite to be named "Wallis" and her new lover, a Russian intellectual slumming as a security guard but still able to afford a ginormous flat in NYC, was named Evgeni so their initials also would also be W. and E. Spare me.

And so I wasted two hours - yes, this trainwreck runs for two full hours - but could not turn it off for one reason: Andrea Riseborough. She is enchanting! I've loved her in other things - she played the original Annie in Being Human and the lead in The Devil's Whore miniseries - but I didn't expect her to so completely inhabit this role. It was absolutely stunning and she deserves all the awards for her performance.

It's also a pretty movie. A lot of Madonna's directorial choices feel like they've come straight from music videos, so you get a hyper attention to the little details - the cigarette travelling up to a pair of lips, a jangling charm bracelet as a wrist points out directions authoritatively, sparkling martini glasses and polished nails on a cocktail shaker. There's also an awful lot of half-shadowed profiles and bathed-in-window-light scenes. It's beautiful stuff, and when accompanied by a worthwhile story, it worked so well. But too much of it plodded along, especially in the modern-day segment, with every IVF injection given a triple-take reminiscent of a Bollywood fistfight.

It's too bad. I am still engrossed in this story, always fascinated and amused by the grotesque way Wallis Simpson tends to be played in British films. The vitriol she attracts is really something, and I had hoped W.E. would be a film that could set some of that to rest. Maybe it worked, if the boring parts were meant to be a soporific. Otherwise, the film I want to see still needs to be made.

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