Tag Archives: Abbie Cornish

W.E.

A deeply odd film, it is a struggle to work out exactly who the audience for W.E. is supposed to be – unless it’s Madonna herself. If you don’t happen to be Madonna, you are likely to find it fundamentally unsatisfying. A strange attempt to blend King’s Speech style costume drama with The Hours and Drop Dead Fred, it doesn’t reach the high points of any.

The film flits between the stories of Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), the American divorcee for whom King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) gave up the throne of England, and Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), unhappily married in the present day to a wealthy shrink (Richard Coyle). Wally is named after Wallis, and is obsessed with her story, spending hours hanging around the Sotheby’s exhibition of her soon-to-be-auctioned personal effects.

Madonna not only directed the film (and quite competently, actually, though perhaps a bit heavy on the homages); she also co-wrote it, with Alek Keshinian (director of the Madonna documentary In Bed with Madonna). And it’s the screenplay that’s the problem. It contains a fairly high level of bemoaning the difficult lives of the wealthy and privileged – much is made of Wallis’ sacrifice of privacy for her Royal affair, being endlessly pursued by the press, to the point that you feel Madonna is bringing her personal baggage to the table. Which does feel like a bit of an overstatement; they may have married in a castle, but Guy Ritchie was hardly royalty.

We are left to consider to what extent the historical sections are intended as a ‘true’ story (in the way that The King’s Speech, say, is presented as a ‘true’ story) and to what extent they are Wally’s fantasy versions; this is particularly pertinent in a party sequence which sees Wallis and her society chums dance with The Sex Pistols on the soundtrack. Is Wally adding her own preferred soundtrack to her image of what Wallis’ life might have been like? Or is the scene there because Madonna has seen Sofia Coppolla’s Marie Antoinette and thought, I’ll try that?

The major difficulty with the dual storyline is that Wally is not particularly interesting. We know she has a fascination with Wallis and is in a crappy marriage, but that seems to be about all there is to her. Attempts to draw parallels between their lives are pretty superficial, so her sense of connection is never convincing. At the end, as Wally tells Wallis she no longer needs her, I had to stifle laughter. It felt as emotionally true as an episode of Ghost Whisperer.

The film is generally well acted and put together, but the shallow screenplay dooms it. It’s not the cataclysmically dire film some reports have claimed, but it never feels like much more than a vanity project.

Limitless

Warning:  this review contains spoilers.  Sorry.  Couldn’t really discuss it without talking about the ending.
Bradley Cooper discovers that the drugs do work, and extremely well, in this watchable thriller that doesn’t seem quite sure which side it’s on.
Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a failing writer freshly dumped by his exasperated girlfriend (Abbie Cornish, who is almost completely wasted in this). He happens to bump into his ex-wife’s brother who slips him a sample of MDT, a new pill that allows the user to access 100% of the mind’s ability.  Unfortunately, it turns out that the pills aren’t quite as legal as Eddie had been led to believe, and he soon finds himself in possession of a large but finite stash on which he is becoming increasingly dependent, and which quite a lot of other people will kill to possess.
This feels at first like a spin on the Faust story – someone given everything they ever wanted, with no apparent strings attached.  Eddie wins back his girl, becomes a successful writer, and starts to make millions on the stock market.  But of course there’s going to be a price to pay, sooner or later; we know that, even if the opening scene hadn’t made it explicit.
Much of the film is good.  There are twists; the identity of the person or persons following Edgar is kept well concealed – and director Neil Burger is particularly strong on the disorienting effect of the drug as Eddie starts to lose chunks of his memory. The difficulty is that Edgar is not a particularly sympathetic character.  He starts out as a self-absorbed loser, becomes a drug-dependent overachieve, and at one point appears to have killed a woman (he can’t remember, and seems more concerned with the possibility of being arrested than with the idea that he might be guilty).  Cooper’s movie star looks and a degree of charm allows him to carry us with him to an extent (Shia LaBeouf was apparently up for the role at one time, which would have been a different story) but even so, we want to see him brought down and learn his lesson. 

But here’s what’s curious: he doesn’t.  He merely learns how to control his intake of the drug to prevent ill effects.  By the end he claims not to be using, but it’s unclear (presumably deliberately) from Cooper’s performance if this is true or not.  Which begs the question: what has he learned?  How has he grown as a character?  He’s standing for public office, but for which party?  What are his campaign goals and promises?  Is he simply out for his own glory, or is he planning to use his influence to make the world a better place?
We’re not told.  Consequently, Limitless becomes the tale of a man who achieves incredible success, fame and wealth by taking illegal drugs and getting away with it.  Which somehow seems a little… odd.