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Madonna's W.E. Reviews: Movie Lambasted at Venice Film Festival

James D'Arcy, King Edward VIII, Andrea Riseborough, Wallis Simpson, W.E. Madonna
James D'Arcy as King Edward VIII, Andrea Riseborough as Wallis Simpson in Madonna's W.E.

Singers have been dabbling in movies with varying degrees of success for as long as feature films have been around. Opera star Geraldine Farrar became a movie star for Cecil B. DeMille in early silent era productions such as Carmen (1915) and Joan the Woman (1916). Later on, there were Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Yves Montand, Elvis Presley, Charles Aznavour, Barbra Streisand, and the list goes on and on until we get to Madonna, whose sophomore directorial effort, W.E., has just premiered out of competition at the Venice Film Festival to generally negative reviews.

W.E. tells two separate stories: That of Wally (Abbie Cornish), a married New Yorker who becomes enamored of a security guard (Oscar Isaac) at Sotheby's, and bits from the life of American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and her relationship with King Edward VIII (James D'Arcy), who abdicated the throne to marry her. Madonna herself co-wrote the W.E. screenplay with Alek Keshishian.

Acquired by The Weinstein Company, the same people who brought you (in the United States) the Best Picture sleeper hit The King's Speech, W.E. is slated to open in the U.S. on December 9, right in the thick of late-year Oscar season. Below are a few review snippets:

“Whatever the crimes committed by Wallis Simpson - marrying a king, sparking a constitutional crisis, fraternising with Nazis - it's doubtful that she deserves the treatment meted out to her in W.E., Madonna's jaw-dropping take on 'the 20th-century's greatest royal love story.' The woman is defiled, humiliated, made to look like a joke. The fact that W.E. comes couched in the guise of a fawning, servile snow-job only makes the punishment feel all the more cruel.” Xan Brooks, The Guardian.

“The intentions are good, but it's clear that Madonna has done what she set out to do without heeding the advice of a much-too-obliging crew. Thus, she has confused a historical film with a fashion show. It's true that the costumes are elegant, while the period reconstruction, if somewhat historically questionable, was industriously accomplished. But the film lacks what is essential: a soul.” Romain Le Vern, Excessif.com.

“… [I]t seems that Madonna has, if anything, gotten worse since Filth and Wisdom. It's not that she has a bad eye—the film's handsomely shot by The Lives of Others DP Hagan Bodanski, in the same way that a perfume commercial is handsomely shot—it's more that her visual approach could best be described as 'throw it at the wall and see what sticks.' The camera barely sits still, stock changes from shot to shot, people walk down corridors in slow motion, all without rhyme or reason.” Oliver Lyttelton, The Playlist.

“Especially dreary is the slow-burning affair between Wally and Evgeni, the security guard, who just don't seem meant for each other on any level. … But for the audience, Wally, despite Cornish's gentle and warm presence, offers very little in terms of personal interest or as a key into the world of one of the last century's most discussed couples.” Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter.

Photo: The Weinstein Company.

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5 Comments to Madonna's W.E. Reviews: Movie Lambasted at Venice Film Festival

  1. Gus B

    I did not want to be abusive or even rude, but by calling other sources “trashy” (like you did with the Daily Mail) you opened yourself a window that allows us to say the same about your article (unless you're the kind that deletes the unfavorable comments). Especially when it refers to an article written with an obvious agenda: “dis” Madonna's movie. That's why you chose to reproduce only the negative remarks, leaving out all the good things they said about W.E. Personally, I think that is trashy.

    Besides that, you cannot call The Daily Mail “trashy” for having written a negative review on a film they hadn't seen, then, after watching it, publishing a different review. That's exactly what you did here. You just wrote an article [re-]reporting what other sources said about the film. You haven't seen the film either. But instead of reporting what other sources in the media have said entirely, or at least being fair, you clipped their comments and reproduced solely the negative ones.

    “to call “W.E.” one of the “best-dressed” movies ever, in my view, means absolutely nothing in terms of story telling or cinematic achievement”.

    I couldn't disagree more.

    In fact, wardrobe is one of the keys for a successful understanding of the time and place. It is indeed intrinsically connected to story telling AND film-making as a whole.

    Wardrobe is the most important aspect of Art Direction on a film (alongside with setting). The fact that many reviews mention how beautiful the wardrobe in W.E is means a “cinematic achievement” as it is part of the film's art direction.

    “Also, I didn't forget to mention THR's positive remarks about the film's look. My focus was on the segments about the narrative and dramatic structure found (or lacking) in “W.E.””.

    You contradict yourself here. The review done by Excessif.com that you reproduced mostly is about the film's fashions, and when it says the film lacks “soul” it doesn't really present any reasoning - it lacks the good old fashioned “supporting argument”.

  2. Anna R.

    Thanks everyone for writing.

    Although I perfectly understand your complaints, I don't quite agree with them.

    I refrained from using the “Daily Mail” review because: a) the paper is a trashy tabloid; one accused of writing a negative review of “E.W.” without its author having actually bothered to watch the film b) the follow-up positive review was a sloppily written text. For instance, to call “W.E.” one of the “best-dressed” movies ever, in my view, means absolutely nothing in terms of story telling or cinematic achievement.

    Also, I didn't forget to mention THR's positive remarks about the film's look. My focus was on the segments about the narrative and dramatic structure found (or lacking) in “W.E.”

  3. BritBoy

    Agreed. I saw this headline and chuckled. Not a balanced analysis of a film that these people put their heart and souls into.

  4. Gus B

    Why did you decide to reproduce little negative extracts and comments on W.E considering that most reviews were positive?

    I know the media likes to focus on one little thing instead of the big picture, but in this case, you are trying to distort the reality:

    There is an underlying CONSENSUS about Madonna's new film: it is better than expected. And its cinematography is stunning.

    You reproduced part of what the Hollywood Reporter said, but forgot to mention that they also said “Madonna's second foray into directing is pleasing to the eyes and ears”.

    You forgot to mention that the Chicago Examiner said that “Madonna's 'W.E.' is one of the most pleasant film surprises in years”.

    Even the The Daily Mail (that had been accused of trying to bomb the film before anyone could see it changed their opinion after seeing it:
    “It's impossible to refute that [Madonna's] film brings to the screen one of the most compelling love stories in history,” adding that “it also happens to be one of the best-dressed movies of the year … In fact, the whole thing looks fantastic.”

    The Daily Mail (with the title “Madonna makes us all fall in love with Mrs. Simpson”) said the untold truth: “A lot of people will loathe it, simply because it's been made by Madonna. But if they were to watch it with no knowledge of who directed, they would be pleasantly surprised. They might even find much of it enjoyable.”

    It's disappointing to see how Anna Robinson tried to manipulate and distort the news here.

  5. Craig

    What are you talking about
    Why are you only showing a few bad reviews, where are the good ones from the Mail, The Examiner, The Telegraph was positive with 3/5 etc. I hate articles like this that try and cause drama where no drama is, get a grip