Wednesday, April 4, 2012

W./E. (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

Sorpresa! The Notorious Madonna Ciccone has her fingers in many sprockets, but not this one. She has now tried her hand at a biopic of the American Jezebel Wallis Simpson  of all things and injected it with more than a bit of melodramatic absinthe, which comes across as creme de menthe.  All the same, I give her well deserved credit, in spite of it all.

The film "W./E." unfolds like a history lesson from cyberspace, which is not to take away from it, but it does make for addled viewing. We are shown a young girl in present day, getting beat up by an officer in a puddle of blood. The girl is Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) whose family has an obsession with Mrs. Simpson. Why? We dont know. Right from the start, the film merges, mixes and blends into a Vaudevillian photo shoot by Vanity Fair. Then there is an abrupt cut to  the 1930s as The Femme Fatale Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) sneaks and snakes her way into the domestic inner circle of Prince Edward. Then another flash to present day as Wally learns she can't get pregnant with her handsome but emotionally vile husband (Richard Coyle)  Then, yet again, another flashback to Edward VIII in Wales, rallying the poor. Bloody Hell. This gets confusing. For the first half hour, the film has as much substance as a music video. But this is Madonna after all. 

In watching the film, you have to forgive Madonna her poetic license. The parallel lives shared between Wally and Wallis (yes, the names appear a bit kitschy in print) are a stretch and a leap of faith, reminiscent of "The Hours" and "Julie & Julia", but that doesn't bother me as much as the simplistic treatment of young Wally and her struggle, making the relationship with her husband a bit one dimensional: The Cad vs the Struggling Young Lady. Only to be rescued by a strong and sensitive Hunk, an Evgeni from Russia of course, played by Oscar Isaac. Everything is underlined and there are no shades of gray. 

The most provocative thing about "W./E." is its fetishistic attention to object and detail; the arc of a red lip, the curve of an eyebrow, the cloak of a dark veil as forbidding and mysterious as a succubus's confessional closet. The importance of sex is ritualized as a Religion or sacred art and a bejeweled  Cartier crucifix is the key that unlocks a fleshly and marital Eden. 

A pair of gloves, a silver necklace or the whole catalogue of Cartier, becomes more important than any love letter or Wallis-dispensed kiss.

Oscar Wilde fans take heart: The spirit of Dorian Gray is alive and well.

"W./E." is as much about Madonna as it is about Wallis Simpson. For years, Madonna has wanted to film Frida Kahlo, and I think she has found her karmic Kahlo-spirit, in the tight shape of Wallis Simpson. One look at those heavy knitted  eyebrows that look like woolen ribbons  say everything about a strong dramatic woman in distress, a  Scarlet Lady carrying on.
W./E." is a "W"-esque  magazine collage of Harlequin romance confusion and compelling pathos. It is an odd, flashy novelty of a film, but it doesn't deserve a Razzie, I  only wish it had more depth in its portrayal of those royal initials.

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