My favorite moment in this movie is the part where Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and her entourage, including Edward, the king she stole from England (James D'Arcy), all dance to The Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant." Watching that moment is sort of like having Madonna sit next to you in the theater and provide her own commentary to this, her second narrative feature. And that commentary is, "I know you were already about to use 'pretty' and 'vacant' to describe this big mess in your little notebook there, Mr. Film Critic, so I went ahead did it for you. Also, I just ripped off Sofia Coppola. What are you gonna do about it?"
And my answer is nothing. I'm going to do nothing about it. Madonna is good at taking what she wants from the culture and using it and discarding it and pretending like she invented it. Ask vogueing and Debbie Harry about that. And, honestly, I like this big mess of a movie. It's two films in one -- well, two films that want to be one so badly that they time-travel back and forth to inhabit each other even when there's no point -- where one of them is about Simpson and King Edward's legendary romance and the other is about Abbie Cornish as a rich New York housewife obsessed with them and, coincidentally, living a kind of parallel life.
And you would have to be headless to not realize that it's all really about Madonna and her own journey from nobodyhood to pop royalty to British Ladydom and the way everyone calls her names all the time (count the seconds between Abbie Cornish putting on lacy underthings and her jerk husband calling her a "whore). And that's fine. Given the choice between something like Truth or Dare, where I actually have to watch Ms. Ciccone acting bratty in real time, and this analog that involves stand-in actors, impeccably chosen period details and costumes, lavish surface detail standing in for historical significance/human emotions and an earnest air of self-pity, I'll take the latter. At least it's never boring checking out all the hats, gloves, teacups, carpets and cocktail shakers.
And did you see Filth and Wisdom? That was her first movie. And it was garbage. So what that means is she's become a better director since then by about a thousand percent. That still doesn't make this a great movie, but it proves that trying hard kinda-sorta pays off. Garry Marshall and that guy who directs all the Adam Sandler movies should be so determined not to fail.