By Eleanor Ringel Cater
“W.E.” pilfers the then-and-now configuration used in “Julie & Julia,” but to little effect. Or more accurately, perhaps, to no effect.
If you remember, the earlier film cast Meryl Streep as celebrated chef, Julia Child and Amy Adams as a present-day woman who is obsessed with her and her recipes. “W.E.” tries the same trick with the “scandalous” Wallis Simpson (the W) and Edward VIII (the E) who famously renounced the throne to marry the twice-divorced American.
The poor dears spent the rest of their lives roughing it in Switzerland or Monaco or New York, presumably on the dime of the British people who are famously loyal to their Royals (with the exception I guess of Fergie).
Meanwhile, in modern-day Manhattan, a rich but apparently rudderless Upper East Side wife (Abbie Cornish) learns there is going to be an auction of W & E’s stuff. She takes to visiting the auction house, casting long, lingering looks at their cigarette boxes and perfume bottles while a security guard casts long, lingering looks at her.
I imagine you can guess where this is going, but I’ll bet (unless you read another review or have the cast-iron stomach to make it all the way through “Entertainment Tonight”), you don’t know who could have possibly directed such a stiff, passionless bore.
Madonna. Yes, that Madonna who, arguably is more famous than W and E put together.
Part of the problem is the script, which can’t seem to make up its mind whether Wallis and Edward (ably played by Andrea Riseborough and James D’Arcy) are the love story of the century (the version I grew up with) or a pair of self-involved freeloaders who apparently flirted with Nazism (the story that has gained increasing credence in the last couple of decades).
It might’ve been possible to toy with both incarnations, but by giving half the screen time over to the smitten Cornish (who turns out to be a poor little rich girl in search of, oh, an understanding lower-class security guard), the movie straddles contradicting impressions. We care very little about W & E and even less about what’s-her-name.
And what, exactly was Madonna’s attraction to the material? Does she identify with the misunderstood but sexually magnetic Wallis (as W apparently was to E). Is this some sort of tribute to her adopted English homeland? Or has the erstwhile Material Girl gone Gaga (sorry, bad wording; I know Lady Gaga must be a thorn in her side; I mean, she stole her act) over all things Royal and Ancient?
Perhaps the movie should’ve been title “W.E. C.” As in, Who Even Cares….