Yep, I'm the one who liked Madonna's 2008 directorial debut "Filth & Wisdom." So, I was looking forward to her sophomore effort, "W.E." I finally got to see it on Blu-ray (out now), and I must say … I loved it! Not just for the wow-factor of the wearables, but the intoxicating parable as well.
What's the Story?
Using bifurcation (that's a fancy term for two separate storylines running concurrently), the Material Auteur explores the real-life reckless and romantic nature of Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), an alluring American socialite who captured the heart and lost the throne of English King Edward VIII (James D'Arcy) in the 1930s. (The title "W.E." is from the couple's term of endearment: "W" for Wallace, "E" for Edward, and "we" for them.)
The notorious woman's unerring ardor is re-imagined in the mind of modern memorabilia maven Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) as she struggles with a marriage that's barren in more ways than one. Each puzzle piece of the story complements the other as the deceased duchess's belongings are auctioned off at Sotheby's and Winthrop bids; from her kid-leather gloves to her diamond hairpins, from her teacups to her love letters, one high-heeled step leads to another.
It was a great device -- kind of like the dueling recipes in "Julie & Julia" or the sad stories in "The Hours" -- using fashion to mirror passion. Madonna's directing style reminds me much of another female filmmaker I admire, Sofia Coppola. There's a slow unfurling which might frustrate the YouTube generation, but interestingly enough, both women come from backgrounds strongly steeped in music videos.
In fact, a favorite scene of mine in Coppola's fine frock-fest "Marie Antoinette," in which the queen's long row of shoes reveal in a quick blip a pair of high-top sneakers while Rameau plays, there's a definite inverse connection when Madonna uses The Sex Pistols' punk rock anthem "Pretty Vacant" for the music over an elegant '30s-era Charleston dance scene at a swanky royal ball. Nostalgia ain't what it used to be!
To DVD or Not to DVD?
Melodramatic to be sure and arty camp to boot, "W.E." succeeds in equal part ennui and emotion. Like it, loathe it, or lump it altogether, one thing fashionistas will not want to fast forward through is the making-of featurette. Here you will find a treasure trove of info on the Oscar-nominated costumes, as well as intel on the designer, Arianne Phillips ("Walk the Line," "A Single Man").
No hem or haw here -- Highly recommended
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