Madonna's 'W.E.': The Venice Reviews Are In

Material Girl's second directorial effort finds few early supporters at the film fest.

The Venice Film Festival turned into something of a feeding frenzy on Thursday, as critics practically fell over one another in an effort to drum up the harshest disses and most damning, damaging turns-of-phrase about Madonna's second directorial effort, "W.E."

Their cackles of laughter echoed across the pond the next day, as the Weinstein Company attempted some damage control and a handful of defenders staked out claims that the film had been unjustly dismissed. Those supporters pointed to the lush visual landscape Madonna had captured and the touching love story she'd brought to life.

But the critics weren't having any of it. They slammed the garbled narrative structure, cheesy dialogue and directorial trickery that seemed to serve no other purpose than Madonna's look-at-me self-servitude. Read on for those critiques and more.

The Story

" 'W.E. is rather better than expected; it's bold, confident and not without amusing moments. Still, it's undeniably a strange concoction. Madonna (who also co-scripted with [Alek] Keshishian) has fashioned a split-level story of two couples: the Windsors, and the growing attraction between Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), a contemporary Manhattan woman, and Evgeni (Oscar Isaac), a handsome Russian working security at Sotheby's. Wally, married to an eminent shrink who isn't above slapping her around, desperately wants children. (He doesn't.) Worse, she has inherited her mother's and grandmother's obsession with the Windsors (Andrea Riseborough, James d'Arcy) and doggedly researches their lives, seeking clues about how to live her own. In extreme moments, Mrs. Simpson actually appears to her." — David Gritten, The Telegraph

The Direction

"What an extraordinarily silly, preening, fatally mishandled film this is. It may even surpass 2008's 'Filth and Wisdom,' Madonna's calamitous first outing as a filmmaker. Her direction is so all over the shop that it barely qualifies as direction at all. 'W.E.' gives us slo-mo and jump cuts and a crawling crane shot up a tree in Balmoral, but they are all just tricks without a purpose. For her big directorial flourish, Madonna has Wallis bound onstage to dance with a Masai tribesman while Pretty Vacant blares on the soundtrack. But why? What point is she making?" — Xan Brooks, The Guardian

The Writing

"The script is the first problem. Co-written with Alek Keshishian, it's laden with clichés and clunky exposition from the off, with some moments drawing laughs from the Venice audience. More fatally, the structure works against what's trying to be achieved. There aren't really any similarities between the characters in the parallel stories, so the one isn't enlightened or embellished by the other. Furthermore, by telling Wallis' story in a somewhat non-linear fashion, jumping around from place to place, it becomes glacially paced and uninvolving, particularly as Madonna seems to steer things away from any actual drama — we never see the moment that Wallis and David first get together, for instance." — Oliver Lyttelton, The Playlist

The Defense

"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, although the odd moment may have them wondering if Madge has committed treason. Whatever your feelings about Ms. Ciccone, it's impossible to refute that her film brings to the screen one of the most compelling love stories in history." — Baz Bamigboye, Daily Mail

The Final Word

"Before it preemed in Venice, advance word on 'W.E.,' Madonna's sophomore feature about Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, was that it was better than her debut, 'Filth and Wisdom.' Indeed it is, though that's not saying much: Burdened with risible dialogue and weak performances, pic doesn't have much going for it apart from lavish production design and terrific, well-researched costumes — and it's in focus, which is more than can be said for the script. Nevertheless, interest in the subject and her Madgesty alone will ensure substantial royalties internationally." — Leslie Felperin, Variety

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