Madonna’s Royal “W.E.”: L.U.V. or P.U.?
Bruce Fretts: You’d think being America’s reigning pop diva would be enough, but what Madonna really wants to do is direct. Hot on the heels of her Super Bowl halftime show comes W.E., her Madgesty’s film about the notorious romance between King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. I’ve asked my favorite Monarchist and Madonnaphile Nancy Bilyeau, author of the bestselling historical mystery The Crown, to help me answer this question: Is W.E. a royal pain?
Nancy: W.E. is one of the strangest movies I’ve seen in a long time. Parts of it I liked, parts of it I hated, and then there were all the moments I turned to you in the theater and said, “I don’t get it!”
Bruce: The strangest thing about it is its Julie & Julia-type conceit. It’s like Wallis & Wally—an abused wife in 1998 named Wally becomes obsessed with the story of Edward and Mrs. Simpson and ends up having an affair with a security guard at Sotheby’s. Huh? The movie kept jumping around decades so much it should’ve been called A.D.D., not W.E..
Nancy: The modern story did not work. Abbie Cornish looked miserable, and not just because her super rich bespectacled doctor husband was alternately punching her and cheating on her. I felt she did not like doing this movie. The Wallis/Edward story—W.E., get it? get it?—was better.
Bruce: I’m still not sure why Abbie Cornish is famous for any reason other than breaking up Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe’s marriage. Madonna clearly didn’t want to cast any stars bigger than herself in the movie. Her showoffy camerawork virtually yells, “Don’t forget about ME? I’M directing this movie!”
Nancy: I like it when she shows off. Remember, I am one of the people who liked it when she arrived at the Super Bowl with a cast of thousands that would make Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra blush in shame.
Bruce: I found it distracting. I wasn’t sure if I was watching a movie or a perfume commercial. And all the heavy-handed lines about how Wallis was the most hated woman in the world and nobody understood her and how persecuted she was by the tabloid press. Oh, boo-hoo, Madonna—as Ray Romano once joked that he said to his wife, go cry on a pile of money.
Nancy: Well, maybe I am giving Madonna too much credit but I thought she was deliberately using a TV-commercial camera style because the whole theme of the movie is objectification.
Bruce: Were you as confused as I was by all the clashing accents in the movie? Wallis is supposed to be from Baltimore but the British actress who plays her, Andrea Riseborough (a dead ringer for Bebe Neuwirth), doesn’t drop a single “hon,” and Abbie Cornish, who’s Australian, keeps slipping into a Southern drawl. I guess it’s no surprise that Madonna would make a movie with phony accents.
Nancy: She will never live down that accent she did when she was married to a Brit. I think when she fell off that horse it jolted her free of the accent. You know it is hard when you are in London not to talk with the accent. I have to fight to hold on to my nasal Midwest twang
Bruce: And Oscar Isaac, who plays the Russian security guard, is Guatemalan! He looks like one of Madonna’s boytoys. I’m surprised she hasn’t married him yet.
Nancy: Yes, he is her type. I thought the camera lingered on his brooding face and muscular arms. Not that I am complaining. Believe it or not, that actor played King Richard in Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood and was great.
Bruce: He was also good in Drive, my favorite film of last year. But his character is ridiculous here, as they all are. How true to life was the movie? They kept brushing off the rumors that Edward was a Nazi sympathizer.
Nancy: Exactly, you can’t shrug your shoulders and say, “We had lunch with Hitler. So what?”
Bruce: Then again, we have had lunch with Bret Watson, so…
Nancy: I disliked even more what this film had to say about marriage.
Bruce: What was it trying to say about marriage? That it sucks?
Bruce: And you beg to differ? (Asked the happily divorced man.)
Nancy: As fun as it is to bash straight men in our culture, that was really pretty offensive, to show two men drunk and kicking their wives in the stomach. There is no historical basis for Wallis’s first husband kicking her like that and causing a miscarriage. So why write that scene? What was Madonna trying to say? And the abusive husband of Abbie Cornish—he made no sense whatsoever.
Bruce: Has she never heard of a divorce? She seemed more trapped in her marriage in 1990’s New York than Wallis was in 1930’s England.
Nancy: I don’t spend any time in Upper East Side high society, but what rich doctor insists his wife not work and stay at home and then he never goes home?
Bruce: I just don’t understand why Madonna and her cowriter Alek Keshishian felt like the “love affair of the century” wasn’t an interesting enough story on its own and they had to tack on this soapy modern-day romance. Maybe after The King’s Speech, they felt like the story had already been told and they had to gussy it up?
Nancy: You must be right. They didn’t want to do a biopic, and The King’s Speech is such a hard act to follow.
Bruce: So why did Harvey Weinstein produce both movies? Is he such a star-fucker that he just wanted to be in bed with Madonna, so to speak?
Nancy: Well, I liked the movie more than you did. There were some interesting elements. Riseborough was terrific. To me she was worth the price of admission.
Bruce: At least Harvey got one Oscar nomination out of it, for Best Costumes, and they are pretty superb. Not surprising a Madonna movie would have good clothes. But the music was awful! Why was Wallis dancing to punk rock during World War II? And we left before we had to endure the song Madonna sang over the closing credits, which didn’t even get a nomination! To be fair, “Man or Muppet” did deserve it more.
Nancy: I thought that seeing Wallis dance with a gorgeous black woman while the Prince of Wales leered in a drug frenzy was Madonna’s way to deal with the rumors of the sex life of Wallis and Edward.
Bruce: I thought it was “W.E.I.R.D.” I would’ve rather Madonna spent two hours dripping hot wax on my genitals like she did to Willem Dafoe in Body of Evidence.
Nancy: Bruce, you have now revealed yourself. And Willem Dafoe is now dying all over again that your brought up the worst movie of his career.
Bruce: The nicest thing I can say about W.E. is it’s not the worst movie of Madonna’s career. Although I must admit I enjoyed Shanghai Surprise more. (And now Sean Penn hates me.)
Nancy: I will always have a soft spot for Desperately Seeking Susan. Get “Into the Groove,” Bruce.
Bruce: Madonna needs to get her groove back.
Nancy: You’ve got Sean and Willem trying to hurt you. I’m surprised you’re not bringing up Dick Tracy for a trifecta. The best Madonna movie of all was the documentary about being Madonna.
Bruce: Truth or Dare—which was directed by Keshishian. She should stick to playing Madonna.
Nancy: Except for the Sex book. Ew.
Bruce: I only bought it for the articles.
Nancy: And for the hot wax.
Will you be seeing W.E.? And what did you think of Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show? Post a comment!