When Lina Wertmuller, the elfin feminist gadfly of Italian cinema, made SWEPT AWAY back in 1974, it was a tantalizing and brutal take on the war between the sexes, between the classes and on the whole human comedy. When Guy Ritchie re-wrote the script for his wife, Madonna, I’m sure he thought it was a good idea. Shrewish bitch-goddess with more money than God laid low by a dose of reality in the form of a hunky but poor fisherman when they are shipwrecked on a deserted island. And even with Madonna’s cinematic track record, I confess to holding out a shred of hope. Not a big one, not a serious one, but there it was. I was prepared to be surprised considering the type-casting and Ritchie’s own cinematic track record. Alas, the only surprise was in seeing how little a top-notch director can do with a woman who simply cannot act.
Ritchie, who so dazzled us with LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, did his best to tailor the script specifically to fit his wife’s talents. Perhaps it is the rosy glow of love that caused him to so badly overestimate them. Her range consists of being shrill in even the most tender of moments, sometimes with the chin jutting at a peculiar angle, sometimes not. The speaking voice is a gravelly thing capable of evoking the worst of junior high theatrical productions with the imperceptible range of inflections of which it is capable. Further, its accent sometimes, and for no apparent reason, desperately attempts to leap the Atlantic into British, but falls short, say somewhere in Hoboken. The body language is somewhere between a rock and a hard place. In scenes of great emotion, romantic or caustic, Madonna reaches deep within herself with an effort requiring a level of concentration that is painful to observe and comes up with nada, goose eggs, zero, a big black hole.
The script itself, which preserves little of the original’s bite and adds nothing to compensate for the loss, is a mix of Marxism, Ayn Rand, the Stockholm Syndrome and what appears to be some personal issues between the Ritchies. In it, he has her slapped her around a lot, dancing suggestively with a fish, and in what defies all logic, lip-synching to someone else instead of actually singing in the fantasy production number. The dynamics of any marriage are complex, but surely those of this union exposed as they are in this way, must provide fodder for much discussion in scholarly circles and will, one day, provide fodder of a different nature for the children involved as they become old enough to sign those book deals for what will undoubtedly turn into bestsellers and perhaps even movies. I know I can’t wait.
But I digress.
On the one hand, one has to admire Madonna’s pluck. After so many bombs and receiving the Golden Raspberry for being the worst actress of the 20th century, she’s still trying to achieve cinematic success. On the other hand, I’m sick of sitting through dreck. Maybe we could all be spared these exercises in futility if we look at things from a slightly different perspective. Madonna wants to be a legend of the silver screen. I say that’s already happened, the way it’s happened for Bo Derek and Pia Zadora. Can’t we just leave it at that and all get on with our lives?
The only nice thing here, and I’m from the south and so I have to try to find something nice to say, is the sleepy-eyed sexiness of Adriano Giannini as the poor fisherman forced to endure first Madonna’s ire and then her affection. In a bit of stunt casting that everyone is quick to disavow, he is the son of Giancarlo Giannini, who starred in same role in the original. And speaking of the original, it’s available on VHS and DVD and eminently worth viewing (or re-viewing).
(Madonna was voted worst actress of the 20th century by the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation. To listen to an interview with its founder about Madonna and other Razzie favorites, click here.)