Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I'll Remember...2002

Swept Away

For years Madonna has tried to prove not only herself, but the public eye, that she can act. Unfortunately, trying too hard while failing to shed her own persona doesn't mix well.

She seems to fare better when she' the star of any movie: if you watch her in supporting performances in DESPERTLY SEEKING SUSAN or A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN she actually comes off looking good. Since the story revolves on other actors, the weight of the expectation is taken off her shoulders by default.

The trouble starts when she is asked to be the star of a movie, regardless the genre. Being the focus of a plot that needs to be told in a visual way, whether it be good, mediocre or plain awful, she has to emote in ways that are akin to an actual movie performance as opposed to a video performance. This is the crucial difference between Madonna and, let's say, Bette Davis, or Meryl Streep. The latter two, even if the movie were to fail (because the visual storytelling lacked some effectiveness in having us relate to it, or because the script fell short, or because the actress per se was just not at her moment), there would be an extra something in their performances that would elevate the movie from being a complete bomb. Both Davis and Streep have had their share: Bette, having a longer career than Streep, in such fare as BUNNY O'HARE (1971) and WICKED STEPMOTHER (1989); Streep in SHE-DEVIL (1989). But at least there's been that naturalism in the way both attacked their roles that made us forget the banality of the movie and watch the performance.

Madonna, on the other hand, not being an especially gifted actress capable of really letting us in on her ability to convey a persona other than herself, fares much worse, and even in the hands of someone as Woody Allen in SHADOWS AND FOG, an inferior classic, she in her pat screen time seems stilted and a little stiff, maybe even nervous, as if she were aware of the cameras and crew and just couldn't let go.

In SWEPT AWAY Madonna tries again to prove she can act in what is essentially a two-character movie. Guy Ritchie, more known for action movies filled in masculine energy, seems as adrift telling a story closer to someone of the likes of Michaelangelo Antonioni or Ingmar Bergman, who could tell a tale of two people with incredible ease. And at 89 minutes, the events which take place happen in such an unconvincing way that when the final half hour comes along and the story takes a dramatic turn, it doesn't feel sincere. From being an absolute witch with no redeeming values to suddenly being in love, this has to be the most unconvincing 180 degree turn since Fay Dunaway's Laura suddenly discovered her passion for Tommy Lee Jones in THE EYES OF LAURA MARS (1978). Equally unconvincing is Adriano Giannini's nasty turn around the middle of the movie -- it lacks any humor and feels genuinely psychopathic -- and when he gives in to Madonna's love, it's too quick to be believed. Filming this in slow music and a visual montage of lovemaking and beautiful scenery doesn't enhance or add upon this "transformation" from what would have been a story of survival between to unlikeable characters to a love story where both discover each other.

Trying to have an unsatisfying ending works against the movie as well -- it only makes it drag, bog it down, and when Madonna has to be filmed going from hope to devastation in a tight close-up, it feels she's trying too hard. Many an actress have done better in conveying so much doing so little. Hers is a performance more suited to acting styles of the late 20s, early 30s where posturing compensated as acting a part or an emotion.
Could the movie have been better? Of course. There are a myriad of ways to have filmed it in a way that would leave the viewer feeling that these people could at least hope to see each other again -- it's been done before, in OVERBOARD (1987), for example. It could have had an existential undertone in which two very different people have to rely on each other but not necessarily change (to ensure a moral tone). Much dialog and unnecessary erotic scenes could have been spared for a more "silent" film look -- as in PERSONA (1966). It could have even been something of a thriller, providing that the Giannini character have a mean streak as Billy Zane had in DEAD CALM (1989). Even if it would have been done as a sex farce it would have worked better for Madonna as the over the top, uber-control freak getting her comeuppance. But with its mean streaked humor, without at least a glimpse of her character having a softer side that hides behind a mask of bitchdom, and without really defining Giannini's own character, this becomes another misfire trying to look like a battle of the sexes.

What are your thoughts on Swept Away?

Swept Away