Starring: Eugene Hütz, Holly Weston, Vicky McClure, Inder Manocha, Richard E. Grant. Not Rated.
Let it never be said that
Madonna’s self-serving fascination with sex, which once stirred enough
controversy to make even her most calculated exploits seem like bona fide
events, has diminished with age. It’s just that we’re no longer shocked, and
only mildly interested. Filth and Wisdom,
her directorial debut, has arrived with more of a whimper than a bang, and the
results are surprisingly shoddy, even by the standards expected of a first-time
The movie centers on the stories
of three London-based flatmates, none of them developed into more than a rough,
unrevealing sketch of a character. Holly (Holly Weston) tires of her very
proper life as a ballerina and puts her training to use at the local strip
club, where a Bo Diddley look-alike blasts dated but familiar hits by the
Material Girl and her onetime heir apparent, Britney Spears. Juliette (Vicky
McClure, of This Is England) is a
pill-popping pharmacist’s assistant who obsesses about starving African
children, oblivious to her own indifference to nourishment.
Then there’s A.K., a hard-living
Ukrainian musician and part-time fetishist-for-hire who acts as the film’s
narrator, often addressing the camera with pearls of dubious wisdom. (“If you
want to reach the sky, fuck a duck and try to fly.”) A.K. is played by Eugene
Hütz, the boisterous lead singer of a Gypsy punk outfit called Gogol Bordello.
Featured here in a series of musical interludes, the band’s boozy anthems soar
with an agreeably anarchic spirit, proof that Gogol Bordello’s recent success
on the New York club circuit is no fluke. As an actor, though, Hütz is
energetic but emotionally impenetrable.
Madonna lets her camera linger on
Holly’s suggestive gyrations and A.K.’s bizarre S&M fantasies, but for a
movie that encourages us to embrace our inner freaks, inhibitions be damned, Filth
and Wisdom is really pretty tame. There is much
discussion of sex and
plenty of lurid insinuations but few moments of actual gratification. This is
turgid erotica, clumsily presented by a cast better suited to Troma-style camp
than a film of any pretensions to seriousness.
Dan Cadan’s script offers its
characters little in the way of resolution, concluding their aimless adventures
on a semi-philosophical note. We’re all in this together, A.K. tell us. Why not
have a little fun while we’re here? Fair enough, but taken as an argument for
better living through hedonism, Filth and Wisdom is unconvincing. In the end, it begs
the question posed by
a pop sensation of a different era: Is that all there is?