‘Filth and Wisdom’: Not enough of either

October 17, 2008


You can divide one-named artists into the cool (Bono, Prince) and the camp: Cher, Liza. I tend to lump Madonna in with the second group.


I’ve never been able to take Madonna seriously, which is fine: She takes herself seriously enough to make up for me and the rest of the known world.


She takes herself so seriously, it appears, that she believes it’s time to put her acting on hold to move behind the camera. Apparently she’s never actually watched her own films.


The phrase “Madonna’s directorial debut” does not so much trip off the tongue as sound like a punchline, which is appropriate in this case. Based on “Filth and Wisdom,” she hasn’t lost her knack for creating unwatchable cinema.


“Filth and Wisdom” is a silly stew of phony profundity that will have you checking your watch almost as soon as the movie starts. Like Hiro on “Heroes,” Madonna has mastered the ability to make time stop – or, at least, crawl. Are we there yet? No, sorry, better settle in for a long slog.


The title is a variation on the notion of yin and yang, crafted by someone who apparently didn’t score very well on the antonym section of the SAT. Dark/light, good/evil, happy/sad: Like a freshman college philosophy major, Madonna is startled to realize there is duality inhe world. Unfortunately, she’s made a movie where every creative coin-toss lands crap-side up, quality-side down.


Briefly, the film focuses on a trio of London flatmates: A.K. (Eugene Hutz) is a part-time musician who earns his money playing whipmaster to a clientele of masochists, who like to dress up and be humiliated (such as, appearing in this movie). But what he’d really like is to be chums with the blind poet (Richard T. Grant) who lives downstairs and treats him like an entertaining nuisance.


One of A.K.’s roommates, Juliette (Vicky McClure), works in a pharmacy, where she is lusted after by her henpecked East Indian boss. She steals pills from the pharmacy, stocking up in anticipation of a wished-for stint in the Peace Corps in Africa, where she hopes to dispense those meds to the needy.


The other roommate, Holly (Holly Weston), is a would-be ballerina who can’t get a job – until she is discovered by a strip-club owner. Can she free herself enough from the discipline of ballet to do a pole dance? Will working the pole loosen her up enough to dazzle the ballet master?


Each ultimately finds what he or she wants by going to the opposite extreme – and then coming back. Perhaps “Filth and Parabolas” would have been more to the point.


This is the movie equivalent of an exercise bike: a lot of effort expended without really getting anywhere. Hutz has charisma (though he’s playing essentially the same character he did in “Everything is Illuminated”). The two women are attractive and seem to be able to act.


Unfortunately, they’re doing it in this movie. Which is barely a movie at all. She’s not in a single frame but Madonna smothers every wretched moment.


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