W.E. is a fascinating mess

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Starring Abbie Cornish and Andrea Riseborough. Rated R. Now playing

Papa don’t preach. We’re not keeping this baby, er, movie. Okay, so that’s a cheap, possibly nonsensical manipulation of important Madonna lyrics, but her fascinating mess, W.E., doesn’t actually make sense either so even-steven. On the bonus side, W.E. looks super pretty and has that wacky Wallis Simpson dancing (with her knickers showing) with a shaven-headed black chick to the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant”.

W.E. means Wallis and Edward, the American divorcée and England’s King Edward VIII, who scandalously high-dived off his throne to marry her. In The King’s Speech the pair were portrayed in an unflattering, frivolous light to help kingly Colin Firth win an Oscar. Directing her second movie (and cowriting with Madonna: Truth or Dare director Alek Keshishian), Madonna also, accidentally, makes Wallis (Andrea Riseborough) and Edward (James D’Arcy) seem totally frivolous—but with awesome clothes, bling, cigarettes, and cocktail shakers in, like, the French Riviera.

Considering that W.E.’s dialogue is self-conscious, frothy snippets rather than real conversation attached to real drama, Riseborough is rather excellent. And D’Arcy is stylish, hunky, and tall, unlike the unhunky, tiny, real Edward. Incidentally, Madonna pretends that W and E’s chumming with Adolf Hitler was completely misunderstood. Just like when A.H. invaded Poland.

But Nonnie’s whackest idea was mashing W and E’s true-ish tale with that of another, fictional, perplexingly dull W: wealthy Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish, blameless), trapped in a hideous marriage in 1998 Manhattan—just like poor, “trapped”, sacrificing Wallis. Wally stalks Sotheby’s auction of Wallis’s material-girl baubles and stemware, meeting handsome, Russian intellectual/security guard (yep) Evgeni (Oscar Isaac). Wally and Evgeni begin the most implausible affair ever.

Maybe that Benzedrine, champagne, and Sex Pistols scene really is wink-winking at all the shallow soullessness. Well, except for all the shallow soullessness in all the other scenes. “Oh we’re so pretty/Oh so pretty we’re vacant/Ah but now and we don’t care.”


Watch the trailer for W.E..

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