'W.E.' — Madonna's movie is an attractive mess
"W.E.," directed by Madonna and starring Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough and James D'Arcy, is fascinating, says Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald, at least from the standpoint of style. It's hard to take your eyes off the clothes and jewelry worn by Wallis Simpson and the man who abdicated the English throne for her, King Edward VIII. But the movie is a silly, illogical mess. It's playing at Seattle's Seven Gables.
Seattle Times movie critic
'W.E.' with Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D'Arcy, Oscar Isaac, Richard Coyle. Directed by Madonna, from a screenplay by Madonna and Alek Keshishian. 118 minutes. Rated R for some domestic violence, nudity and language. Seven Gables.
If "W.E." were a musical, you'd walk out humming the earrings — and the bathtubs, and the silver, and the yachts and the hats. And perhaps you'll hum just loud enough to forget that the movie is otherwise weirdly incoherent, a vaguely cobbled-together muddle of the story of Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) — the woman for whom King Edward VIII famously renounced his throne — and Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish).
You haven't heard of Wally, because she's fictional, and very much so: Wally is a young woman in 1998 Manhattan who's married to a brute (Richard Coyle) and who spends her copious free time hanging out at Sotheby's, where a collection of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor's belongings (i.e. Wallis and Edward, who referred to each other as W.E.) is being auctioned. Wally, named for Mrs. Simpson, lovingly fingers the linens and gazes at the jewelry day after day, while we wonder why she doesn't just get herself a hobby.
Directed and co-written by Madonna, "W.E." is a mess, but it's certainly an attractive one; the characters are underdeveloped, yet so relentlessly art- directed that at least there's always something lovely to look at. The 1930s scenes play as if someone plucked a subplot out of "The King's Speech" and retold it from the point of view of the outfits; its contemporary sequences present a mystifyingly lifeless heroine whose main personality trait seems to be that she always wears expensive-looking black lingerie for all scenes requiring confrontation. Occasionally Wally and Wallis meet, illogically but attractively.
"Get a life," says Wallis to Wally, in true 1930s fashion; I'd say the same to this movie, but I was too busy staring at her hat.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org