Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Romance, Drama
Opens locally Friday, February 10th, 2012
Run Time: 1 hour 59 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Abby Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy, Oscar Isaac
Co-written & directed by Madonna
Fresh off of her Super Bowl Halftime Show performance, Madonna is in the spotlight again with W.E., her 2nd feature-film directorial effort...though it is likely that nobody has ever seen or heard of her 1st (the 2008 comedy Filth and Wisdom, which grossed a whopping $22,406 in US theaters). She tries very hard to make W.E. a sleek and stylish film, but her abundance of effort nearly ruins everything. Surely Madonna is a bold artist, as her career has shown. But she did not become famous by having a “less is more” mentality, and in fact, Madonna is known for bringing the opposite - She is the queen of materialistic excess. With W.E., the material girl tries to wow us with her showmanship, when she really should have let the material speak for itself.
W.E. stands for Wallis and Edward, whose real-life love story is known as the greatest romance of all time. A closer look reveals that nothing is as good as it seems. He was King Edward VIII and she was an American divorcee…together they had been known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. When King George V died in 1936, it was his son David (Edward the VIII) who was heir to the throne. David famously renounced his title so that he could be with his love Wally. Imagine loving someone so much that you would give up everything, even being King?
But W.E. asks us to look at this romance from a different angle. Was David the only one who sacrificed? Didn’t Wally give up a lot herself?
The film attempts to tell this love story while balancing a modern-day relationship alongside it. In modern times, we meet Wally Winthrop (Cornish), named after the Duchess of Windsor. When she becomes involved in the auction of the Duke and Duchess’s estate, she begins to fantasize and obsess over Wallis Simpson’s life. The movie is told in that annoying flashback style, as modern-day Wally finds commonalities with Wallis Simpson’s life, and we see that both Wally’s are in similar situations.
If the plot surrounding King Edward VIII sounds familiar, that’s because it was just recently brought to our memories in 2010’s The King’s Speech. That movie focused on Bertie, David’s brother, who becomes King after David renounces the throne. So in a sense, W.E. exists as a companion piece to The King’s Speech. But ironically, W.E. is the one that isn’t fit to be movie royalty, as it stutters and stammers along in a painstaking effort to find its true voice.
When Madonna is your director, there is a magnified spotlight, perhaps unfairly. You open yourself up for strict criticism dealing with direction. But there is no question that this material would have been more effective in the hands of someone more seasoned. Every shot seems to be over-the-top, quite literally as well as figuratively. The first half hour is a series of extreme close-ups, a claustrophobic and suffocating demonstration of directorial inexperience. The film works best when Madonna seems to get bored panning the camera around and actually relaxes some of the shots, although the intense musical score and over-use of slow-motion destroys any real emotional connection between audience and the characters on screen.
Given these stylistic short-comings, the romantic tale of Wallis and Edward is meant for the movies. I just wish that it was given a straight-forward treatment instead of the parallel contemporary romance that fragments it. W.E. really is more of a movie dealing with romanticizing rather than romance…about how we tend to overlook the realities of love or just make up what we want when we look at others in love. Whoever came up with the phrase “happily ever after” clearly inserted the word “happily” by mistake, says this film. Forever to some, can seem like an eternity.
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