There is something quite off about Madonna’s W.E.. Besides the obvious lameness that I alongside many others took with Madge’s delivery, its is really hard to identify what exactly is so wrong about this film. I dare you to watch any interview with the egocentric director about her latest project, and count how many times she mentions ‘her film’, ‘my project’, ‘her passion’. One simply doesn’t have enough digits on their hands or feet to do this. Madge’s incessant sub-conscious boasting about ‘her film’ is an interesting case, because I think that it contributes (at least for W.E) to 90% of her harshest criticisms. Pointing so much attention at her ‘creative process’ has made critics and audiences alike find it very hard to separate her film’s pretension from promise.
W.E.certainly exuded decadence: its sets were lavish, costumes pristine, and acting well crafted. But at the base of it all, the obsessive smoking of cigarettes and the act of smoking became fore grounded so much so that it actually (and I say actually because I never would have imagined that I would take note of smoking in film or ever see it as a problem) became one of my most central gripes with the film.
Growing up as part of the generation of boys who idolized Edward Furlong’s love-able knuckle head/ bad boy persona in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), I am familiar with the popularization of ‘cool’ habits. These would be those traits that have been paraded by film and media industries for quite some time as actions or items that establish one’s certain hipness. 
A good example of one these actions of the ‘cool’ would be the aforementioned act of smoking and the frequent use of profanity in film, both of which director’s somehow continue to make more varied and memorable (just listen to about 30 seconds of Jonah Hill’s dialog in Superbad (2007)). Smoking, whether being consciously pushed as a signifier of ‘cool’ by the industry or not, has always been synonomous with being hip. In the silent and classical days of film production, actors smoked on screen in order to look less idle Still, watching an icon like Humphrey Bogart let a cigarette turn into a long stick of ash was and still is considered ‘cool’. Even more so, it’s undeniable that the act of smoking was made even more debonair by someone like Bogarts’ unique and archetypal suaveness. It was his certain personality that added to the coolness of the act, and I still think there is something quite admirable about that.
Once major changes came about in Hollywood’s production code, essentially allowing us to see and hear more than before, it only made sense that the ‘coolness’ represented in that iconic way that players like Bogart carefully tailored (i.e. good dress, a cigarette, scotch, and a neat shave) became easier and easier to represent on screen. In American History X (1998), is Furlong only 7 years after his prepubescent appearance as John Connor in T2. Although Furlong continued to play the reckless-bad boy with swag role, the items that define his particular ‘coolness’ had matured as well. Here he is seen swearing, smoking a cigarette, and flaunting his Neo-Nazi attitude (only for the film of course). Still, its important to remember how odd it is that Furlong’s image transgressed into this, as he was not always a signifier of ‘cool’ because of his arguably bad habits, but originally because of his bad attitude.
This makes it clear that the days of unspoken style, where a cigarette was more an indication of adulthood rather than youthful hipness, are long gone. Thus, this is the greatest offence of Madonna’s W.E.. The film showcases nearly every shot, both in its past and present story lines, of the films’ protagonists chain smoking like there is no tomorrow. I don’t have any problem with cigarette and alcohol consumption in film, as if any film is really doing what it is supposed to be doing (translating thoughts and ideas with moving images) the real nature of these substances should be seen as secondary, if at all, to what is at play on screen. The difference with such behaviour in W.E. then is that this film fetishizes cigarette consumption and the act of smoking itself, glamorizing the act by making it intrinsically linked to the glamorous lifestyles of its characters. We live in a day and age where the hazards of smoking have become public knowledge, and seeing Madge flaunt and sexualize this act makes W.E. quite transparent in its desperate attempt to be stylish.
When is it okay to show the act of smoking and when is it not? When is this act being glamorized? What makes it look cool in these instances?
 While its fair to say that all of these questions are open to debate, films like W.E. go to show that big budget productions companies the Weinstein Company still choose to endorse the likes of films that utilize smoking as a stylish and seductive act. 
Well in 2011, public health authorities such as the Center for Tobacco Control and Research at the University of California and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention researched the effects of smoking in film. Curiously, the results showed that smoking in film has shown to caused 13% less profit made at the box office. This caused me to ask: has all of the anti-smoking propaganda actually worked then?
 There have also been many watchdog groups dedicated to the reduction/ elimination of smoking in film, namely Smoke Free Movies: an organization that proposes that all films with instances of smoking in them be given an ‘R’ rating, anti-tobacco adds be shown before the film, and government and state subsidies only be given to film’s that are tobacco free.
While its good to know that there are a group of people, somewhere out there, dedicated to monitoring the sometimes reckless attitude influential industries like those of film or the entertainment industry take towards depicting addictive behaviours and substances, it is really very hard to say if such stringent actions are helpful or detrimental. While a film like W.E. showcases mindless cigarette consumption at its worst, it also must be remembered that other filmmakers and production teams are much more aware of the implications of the habits their films portray, and to make them adhere to such rules would be out right censorship at the expense of the artist an act that would no doubt impose on creative freedom. 
 It’s unfortunate that Bogart’s iconic image as the chain smoking, matter of fact tough guy took him to his grave: Bogart died from cancer of the esophagus in 1957. Whether the rally against smoking in film is right or wrong, it takes only one American cinema icon like Bogart to make us recognize that being ‘cool’ on camera is always an act that is linked with those scenes we see on the screen, that took place at that particular moment, and those images and ‘coolness’ can never live on and endure any longer than just that.


Since the decline of her pop culture relevance, Madonna has seen her status as the ‘princess of pop’  snatched away from her by contemporary starlets who try to embrace her ‘material girl’ mentality pioneered in the 1980s. Coming off of the disaster that was Filth and Wisdom (2008), Madonna is said to of hoped that her latest feature film W.E. would establish her ‘artistic credibility’, essentially helping her career as a filmmaker rebound from the similar depths of ineptitude that it rests in.  All that W.E. goes to show though is that even with commendable acting , exquisite sets, and costume design Madge’s utter lack of focus and transparent vanity has only crystallized her reputation as the ‘princess of pretension’.

Its funny because Weird Al’s questions aren’t outrageous in the slightest. Instead its Madonna’s ridiculous answers (which judging from her usual interviews were probably as ridiculous even in their intended context) that achieves the comedic effect here.
W.E desperately tries to tie two stories together. The first takes place in the now and features Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), who is a young and attractive New York City stay at home yuppie obsessed with a Duke and Duchess of Windsor gallery exhibit. Her adulterous and brutish husband’s lack of interest in rearing children and physical abuse drives her into the arms of a soft spoken security guard named Evgeni (Oscar Isaac). The second story line goes back to the 1930s and follows the Duke and Duchess of York, Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy), and their struggle to be together. Visually speaking, W.E’s rich, elaborate sets and costumes are of a great advantage to the film, and its Academy nomination for best costume design may just attest to this. The problem is that W.E. starts off with a remarkable speed, throwing us back and forth between both Winthrop and Simpson’s lives. It doesn’t take long for this momentum to go from being exceptional to nauseating, as it seems that every five minutes we are transported to a scene with a little subtitle informing us of just what we’re supposed to be watching. In the cataclysm of scenes that open W.E., we see Simpson violently kicked in the stomach by her first husband, and with this it’s clear that Madonna is gearing us up for a wild roller coaster ride. The problem is that Madge overreaches her grasp with the exhausting back and forth of time periods and stories, causing this ride to careen of its rails in the first fifteen minutes alone. Although the title, W.E, is Madge’s clever way of relating Wally and Evgeni’s relationship to Wallis and Edwards’, it would be more accurate if W.E. stood for What Ever.
%d bloggers like this: