Unwieldiness seems to follow Madonna’s W.E. wherever it goes, from the Venice Film Festival, where a poor reception eventually led to multiple re-edits, to the marketing department, which in addition to releasing an exhausting trailer that loses your interest halfway through, has produced two posters that fail to amend the movie’s lack of promise. The latest image is a monumental improvement over the first, whose top-to-bottom awfulness, complete with feathered headshots that look pulled from different films, is trumped only by that of the sin collage that heralded New Year’s Eve. At last achieving a sense of romance, the new W.E. one-sheet repurposes a previously released still, presenting in grayscale a shot of Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and King Edward VIII (James D’arcy) canoodling on the beach in vintage, frowned-upon bliss. The design is reminiscent of packaging from the 1950s and ’60s, perhaps for Barbie, or maybe Coppertone, making it the latest thing to strive for Mad Men chic (never mind that the flashback end of the plot takes place in the 1930s).
The poster is classy, in a boring, generic kind of way, and it at least appears to have been created by a professional. But it doesn’t do much better than its predecessor in terms of putting that vexingly over-clever title to use. W.E. Poster No. 1 plugged its name into the don’t-confuse-it-with-currency tagline, “In love…we trust,” a phrase so asinine it’s enough to cause someone to close the book on this movie for good. Poster No. 2 pulls the color and font from the title and drops it into its synoptic blurb, finally confirming for the uninitiated that, indeed, W.E. doesn’t simply refer to “you and me, together,” but also signifies the names of the forbidden lovers, Wallis and Edward. Get it, y’all? It’s like the pun of Good Will Hunting, if that title had been amenable to the letters “I.Q.” And though it’s hardly a terribly pressing point, what’s with the added slash between the titular letters? What, at the end of the day is the title of this movie? W.E.? W./E.? WTF?
This project is a remarkably ambitious one for Madonna, a woman whose journey into the world of film has been, unfortunately, one of the most widely reviled of our time. She has the built-in hurdles of making sympathetic a love story that most regard with distaste, and overcoming the been-there-done-that mentality of an audience that just finished helping a film with a Wallis/Edward subplot flood the global consciousness and clean up at the Oscars. It is a noble and brave artistic endeavor, and it speaks to Madonna’s long-standing ideals and tradition-bucking pursuits that she’d champion so unpopular an example of adamant love. With so many challenges in place, you’d think the film would be presented in a less clunky, more assured fashion (hell, even dubbing it Wallis and Edward would make for more appeal). Instead, W.E. is preceded by a red carpet of red flags, and at the risk of presumptuously speaking for the mob, we are not amused.