Anchor Bay // 2011 // 119 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // May 1st, 2012
Wallis Simpson: "Are you trying to seduce me?"
Edward: "Is it working?"
W.E. is saddled with the baggage of being co-written and directed by pop legend Madonna. The singer has admitted the film represents a passion project of hers to tell the story of King Edward VIII who gave up the throne of England to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. I imagine Madonna longs for the kind of relationship where a man would sacrifice so much for her, and she admires the spunk and pluck of the lady at the center of all this attention. Sadly, the film ends up like much of her pop music: slick, overproduced, and lacking emotional depth.
New Yorker Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish, Sucker Punch) is unhappily married in 1998 Manhattan to an abusive doctor. Yet when she stumbles on an auction for the estate of King Edward VIII (James D'Arcy, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) and Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough, Happy-Go-Lucky) at the famed Sotheby's her imagination is sparked. Each item she looks at inspires her to imagine the life of Wallis Simpson, so much so it inspires her to take action and she ends up falling for a mysterious Russian security guard (Oscar Isaac, Drive). W.E. tells the stories of both romances simultaneously, even letting the two women speak to each other through imagined conversations about love and destiny.
The problem with intertwining the two stories is that the truly interesting tale of Edward and Wallis is all jumbled up with the trite and uninteresting life of a New York housewife. W.E. would have done better to concentrate solely on the historic figures, and not try to find a way to wrap it around a modern woman. Jerking back and forth from present to past stops any emotional arc in either era, mucking things up more than it intrigues. Madonna co-wrote the script with Alek Keshishian who filmed her 1991 documentary Truth or Dare. I wonder if they wouldn't have been smarter to simply splice in Madonna sitting around dinner tables talking about her fascination with Wallis Simpson with various stars she knows. That would have far more resonance than the construct here.
W.E. does offer a stylish and well-designed look at both couples. Madonna has assembled an impressive team of cinematographers, set designers, and costumers to bring her project to life. The whole thing looks like a biopic produced by the fashion editors of Vanity Fair. It's no wonder the sole Oscar nomination for the film honored the costumes. They are immaculate and dazzling, and the dresses make the film worth a look for fashionistas who enjoy a good period gown. The movie is all about wearing its "Material Girl" roots on the sleeve.
This deluxe Blu-ray package offers consumers three discs. The first contains the 2.35:1/1080p high definition treatment of the film which looks just fine. Colors are a bit washed out on purpose, but detail and saturation work great to make everything pop off the screen. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio does an admirable job with the film's score, and compliments the visuals well. There is only one real extra: a twenty minute look at the making of the film, including several segments with Madonna. It's odd to see her on a set as a director without make-up or costume, the footage revealing the star is aging faster than you might imagine from her Super Bowl and music video appearances.
Madonna fans are not going to find much insight into the singer from this ultimately emotionless ride through history. It looks pretty, but the narrative device ruins any chance of exploring how a strong female given to narcissism can force a king to give up his throne. It's pretty to look at, but in the end not deep enough to hold our interest. Still, there's a polish and flare that shows Madonna may yet find a suitable project for her talents.
Guilty of being too much like a prayer sung by a virgin director.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R