Remember when Madonna was a pop star? She wore those triangle bras and crosses and shocked all the Christians in the land. These days, excepting the odd wrangling of a child from his African homeland or a 53rd birthday, she's rarely in the news. Some of us may even miss her. But that's all about to change! Or maybe, sort of, because Madonna is back...sort of. "W.E.," the second feature film she's ever directed, has just screened at the Venice Film Festival and sold to The Weinstein Company, who also distributed "The King's Speech." The movie simultaneously tells the story of King Edward VIII's abdication of the British throne for the sake of his American lover, Wallis Simpson, and a modern counter-story starring Abbie Cornish as a New Yorker obsessed with Wallis (it also apparently dismisses claims of Edward's and Wallis' sympathy for the Nazi cause). What with the "Julie & Julia" style toggling, it sounds like a potential box-office darling. Plus it's currently got the best kind of buzz a movie can hope for: divided critical opinion!
Yesterday we gave you a rundown of reviews on another buzzy Venice screener, "The Ides of March." Walk with us now, as we dodge the gleeful contempt and careful praise getting hurled at "W.E."
"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 film-maker. Her direction is so all over the shop that it barely qualifies as direction at all."
Score: 1/5 stars
Xan Brooks, for The Guardian
"W.E. is rather better than expected; it’s bold, confident and not without amusing moments. Still, it's undeniably a strange concoction."
Score: 3/5 stars
"The film most closely resembles a sumptuous documentary about a young beauty on an exclusive shopping expedition."
Todd Mccarthy, for The Hollywood Reporter
"Rough-cut previews suggested the film was destined to be another of Madge's famous flops. Rumour had it that the two-tier love story was cumbersome. Actually, the device is a breath of fresh air and I think it will make the movie accessible to younger audiences."
The Daily Mail
"Despite a couple of solid performances, the film can't be redeemed. We've never looked forward to Madonna going back on tour more, if only because it means that we'll know, for certain, that she won't be using that time to direct another movie."
"It's a credit to the former pop sensation that I was able to forget the major elephant in the room that was the woman behind the camera and enjoy almost every minute of the it. Yes, I say almost as the third act is a painful sequence of events that show she didn’t really know how to finish her story and I wouldn't be surprised if a re-cutting or even re-shoots are ordered before the film gets a theatrical release in the U.S. this December."
Score: 3/5 stars
"Wallis Simpson was the kind of woman who was accused of being more style than substance - and that, alas, is what Madonna has recreated on screen with W.E."
"Absurd charm-bracelet film in which we learn how little Madonna knows about love, history, humanity, narrative. Lovely frocks."
Overall critical score: D
"W.E." is scheduled to hit theaters Dec. 9, 2011.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that "W.E." is Madonna's fourth feature film as a director. "W.E." is Madonna's second feature film.