W.E., essentially, tells the story of a grand real life fairy tale, wherein the common woman marries the king whom becomes so infatuated with her, he gives up the throne. Cue a sequel called The King’s Speech. Well, sort of.
In essence, it’s a happy, vivid tale that would make a female audience giddy with excitement, much like Wallis Simpson and Edward did during their public relationship. Madonna deconstructs the story in her own way, creating a miserable, infinitely depressing story of abuse, maddening obsession, and alcoholism. How joyous.
W.E. is two narratives running in parallel, one of Simpson dealing with the growing public eye, the other of a modern New York woman trying to find herself in the artifacts of Simpson/Edward marriage. Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish, performing her best Charlize Theron impression) spends her days browsing a Sotheby’s auction house, bemused as she scans these items, using the time as an escape from her abusive husband. Her obsession, or her connection to the former royals, is never given a base.
The story isn’t Wally, or her new found lover Evgeni (Oscar Isaac). In tandem with the classical, costume drama, Wally’s story is weighing down an already sloppy, ego-infused film that drives home information without any placeholders. One wishes for the piece to settle, take its time and embellish these characters. W.E. begins with a vicious bathroom assault without any character backing to set a sense of place or drama. The audience should care because… well, because.
W.E., in the most basic sense, is trying far too hard to win over an audience. Photography is jumpy, so eager to showcase beauty outside of fragile mental conditions that it becomes off-putting. Shifting film stocks deteriorate image quality on purpose, connecting the two eras with equally dampened appearances. With such over eager attempts to please in the opening act, W.E. becomes jumbled, tripping over itself as it forges ahead making the assumption the audience can connect pieces.
W.E. feels more akin to a music video, where schizophrenic visuals are necessary to instill a sense of narrative between cuts of musicians performing their craft. The difference is that W.E. doesn’t have a lyrical flow to back it up, or fill in the blanks. It feels mysterious to a fault until the pieces align in the back half. By then, the romance of the century has been crushed under the weight of self-brought torture, affairs, and spousal abuse.
Ugly in more ways than one can imagine, Madonna’s directorial romance is shrouded in murky black levels, shifting grain structures, and weirdly smooth skin that pulls W.E. from reality. The film opens on a darkened hallway, the black levels already pouting about wasting their time, drifting off into aimless, blue-ish hues that are woefully unsatisfying. What can be made out to be fading film stock for the vintage eras doesn’t click for the modern day tale.
This Anchor Bay AVC encode struggles to keep up with the fluctuating grain structure, which rarely leads to any discernible texture. The 16mm footage is wrecked with compression artifacts, already softened by design and made doubly worse by the digital transition. “Soft” can function in many ways with regards to the video, from the flat, glazed skin on the actors to the few exteriors that fail to wow in any way. There seems to be a haze over the image that is never seen, only implied.
With total desaturation a focus, flesh tones become sickly white, and the Oscar grabbing costume design is lost to a realm of grays and pale primaries. Whites are dimmed to further ensure the visuals lack any displays of grandeur, emphasizing how everyone in this film seems to hate themselves even when they’re happy. Contrast is removed from the equation entirely.
Clearly, decisions were made long before W.E.’s arrival to home video that thwarted the visual impact. Onto Blu-ray, the piece is allowed little wiggle room in a market forever demanding perfection. For as appreciated as “different” can be, there are times where things are taken to detrimental extremes. With such barren high-fidelity texture and already compressed images, W.E. offers minimal spark to an HD enthusiast. When your film sees such little benefit from such a capable format, it feels for naught.
All of W.E.’s audio prowess comes from its music, a mixture of Chubby Checker, classical, and rock pop that is, if nothing else, uniquely styled. It brings energy into the mix by utilizing the surrounds for incidental elements.
Being so dialogue driven, most activity will hit the center channel without a chance to escape a mono existence. A peppy dinner sequence has guests clanging glasses or chattering, and an auction late has shocked bidders gasping at the prices, all within the full range of the mix. City streets are unfortunately static with little ambiance, just drab elements that make little effort to be noticed.
One single bonus feature is placed onto the disc, a celebratory making-of that runs for 22-minutes. It’s all high praise. It’s also hilarious how the menu states it is, “featuring Madonna,” as if people would suspect she would be too embarrassed to be involved.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.