Tuesday, May 8, 2012

W.E.

By Sati. Tuesday, May 8, 2012 , , , , , , ,
50/100 (119 min, 2011)
Plot: The affair between King Edward VIII and American divorcée Wallis Simpson, and a contemporary romance between a married woman and a Russian security guard.
Director: Madonna
Writers: Madonna (screenplay), Alek Keshishian (screenplay)
Stars: Abbie Cornish, James D'Arcy and Andrea Riseborough

Pretty Vacant

W.E. is not a good film. But it is one of this films that have so many fantastic elements in it that you can't really call it bad either. It's not good, it's not bad, but it's definitely not mediocre. It's a film you have to endure in order to see those great parts of it - it's like a trip to the museum where you are wandering around for hours, bored, unimpressed, puzzled, only occasionally seeing a gorgeous piece of art.

I imagine that while Madonna was working on that movie she spent her time reading history books about the affair between King Edward and Wallis Simpson, while listening to Sex Pistols and surrounding herself with the objects from the era. Too bad in her research she actually forgot to read about how to make a movie. W.E. has many things in it but the one thing that is always absent is the focus - the film is scattered and messy and Madonna makes a lot of puzzling choices when it comes both to the plot and the narrative of the picture.
Englishmen are perceived to be cold but they prove to be anything but - especially if you look at their history. They are the people who quite often lose their minds for love - and not even the women, but men and even kings. In XVIth century one girl named Anne Boleyn forever separated England and Vatican with the flatter of her eyelashes and the intensity of her eyes and in 20th century another one caused a man to sacrifice his throne.

Much like Boleyn Wallis didn't posses great beauty or manners. But she had charm, intelligence and the spellbinding energy. She was not just a lover for Edward - she was also his best friend. W.E. doesn't focus that much on the affair but it focuses on her - how flattered she is by prince's attention, how mortified she is when the he is willing to give up the throne for her and how guilty she feels when he does so.
W.E. would be a wonderful film, even with its lack of focus and skill full hand of the director if it just stayed with Wallis at all times - Andrea Riseborough, one of the most talented and under appreciated actresses out there delivers a tour the force work as Simpson, truly embodying her. I saw Riseborough in other films and she was nothing short of magnificent but here she steals every single moment and the movie is worth watching just to see her work.

Unfortunately, for some strange reason Madonna introduces parallel story taking place in modern times where we watch dazed and confused Abbie Cornish trying her best to act. Hell, if it wasn't for this misguided abortion of a plot I'd give this movie a solid 8/10. But the story of a young trophy wife fascinated by Wallis and actually going as far as hallucinating her being there and having conversations with her is so stupid and ridiculous I was embarrassed for Cornish. She did her best, but she is not a great actress yet and her best is not going to rescue the scene from being a disaster.
I really don't see a reason for her story being in the movie. There are some similarities between two women's lives - the violence they experienced from their husbands, the baby issue, the elegance and fierceness they presented whenever others were watching. But why introduce another character to establish all of that? It's one of the biggest mistakes I ever saw played out on screen.

Modern day atrocities aside - the film looks and sounds beautiful. The cinematography is absolutely dazzling - though the editing is a bit too vigorous at times and Madonna really doesn't let her movie linger too much anywhere, even when it really, really should - the film is really a treat to look at. The camera shows us the artistic and delicate shots, quite often ingenious and while at times unflattering for the actresses always having a peculiar and interesting kind of beauty to them. All the details in the frames are meticulously planned and the Academy Award nominated costumes look very authentic and lovely.
The score by Abel Korzeniowski is definitely in my top 5 from last year's film music - it is captivating, memorable and extremely moving. The film has certain scenes so overwhelming in their beauty - thanks to the music, cinematography and editing - you won't be able to forget them for a very long time, particularly the astounding sequence in which Edward announces his abdication and his life flashes before his eyes. There is also a scene where Wallis and Edward dance to Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant" - something so outrageous and crazy that it could only happen in Madonna's movie.

The cast is quite impressive - wonderful Riseborough has great chemistry with James D'Arcy who plays Edward and delivers second best performance in the movie. The roles of King George and his wife Queen Elizabeth, played in Academy Award winning performance by Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter respectively in "The King's Speech" here are the work of Laurence Fox and Natalie Dormer, who ironically played Anne Boleyn in "The Tudors" - here unlike there she is a woman determined to rescue the monarchy from the scandal.
In the present day storyline we have Cornish who finally finds the right rhythm for her character in the latter part of the movie and Richard Coyle who does good job at playing her abusive scam of a husband. There is also Oscar Issac, lastly seen in Drive as a Russian security guard who seems to be a dream man for Cornish's character which all results in corny and unengaging subplot of romance and rescue tale of seemingly strong woman who needs a man to find happiness. How does it all tie in to strong and always at heart independent Wallis, I have no clue.

W.E. is heavily flawed but it is worth seeing just for its gorgeous visual side and powerful work from Riseborough who I truly hope will get her big break soon - she is really impressive here, despite the movie being so uneven and the script being so messy.

20 comments:

  1. Good review, I feel similarly about it. The modern day storyline really brought the film down. I personally think Abbie Cornish is a good actress, but this was a terrible performance.

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    1. I agree, she is good, she was amazing in Bright Star and Candy.

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  2. I don't think I can make myself sit through this one right now. At one time in my life I was a big Madonna fan, but this just looks and sounds so lacking. Maybe after a few years when it's time to do a retrospective.

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    1. Pethaps when Riseborough becames big star (hopefully) will be the time :)

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  3. Superb review. I do like Abbie Cornish based on her performances in Bright Star and Candy while I think she was one of the few reasons why Sucker Punch didn't become the great disaster that it was.

    I do like Andrea Riseborough but I'm still unsure about seeing it. Plus, I think Madonna has no clue in how to interpret a story. If Sofia Coppola was directing this film, it would've been more about Edward and Wallis instead of that other story. She would've made it interesting but also make it her own. That idea of Wallis Simpson dancing to "Pretty Vacant" just seems silly and Madonna trying to do what Sofia did in Marie Antoinette.

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    1. Oh yeah, Madonna is clueless, but the actors really do good job here, even Cornish though she seems lost for most part. She was quite good in Sucked Punch, so she can be great even in a bad film. Here, though, things were quite chaotic.

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  4. The trailer looked mildly appealing to me, mostly because of Abbie Cornish. But Madonna directing? Oy, now that is a worry. I have a feeling it won't be a good movie but I still might give it a shot on a slow night :)

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    1. It's not good but it is worth seeing for the visuals, music and Riseborough.

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  5. I have been avoiding this one, but from your review I might give it a go as I like the period

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    1. Oh it's wonderfully recreated, the scenes with Edward and Wallis seem very reallistic.

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  6. GREAT review as always! Don't fancy this but I'll be interested to see if Madonna takes another shot at directing and if she can make something as beautiful but with less of the narrative flaws.

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    1. Thank you! Had she stuck to directing and not messing with the story maybe it would be better.

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  7. Yea the trailer was weird because it was kind of stylishly put together but the story seemed really trite. I guess the movie is the same way lol

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  8. I think I like your review more than I would like this film. It is such a shame because it looks absolutely lush and a lot of the actors in it that I actually like.

    I always have reservations about movies that alter the narrative of historical figures in such as Wallis and Edward, especially given their WWII affiliations.

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    1. WWII is only briefly mentioned and it's only from Wallis's point of view. It's mostly just about their romance, heavily focused on her.

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  9. I saw the trailer for this film in front of The Artist and I remember thinking that I couldn't be bothered with it. It kind of felt like a sequel to 'The King's Speech'. Thankfully it didn't get much attention either.

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    1. It's more of a prequel - most of the events take place before abdication and we only see Bertie and Elizabeth a little bit.

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  10. It sounds interesting...although it has flaws, I am willing to give it a try just for the score, the costumes, the visuals! Great review, as always!

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    1. Thank you! All those things you mention really make it worth watching.

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