Film Review by : The Globe and Mail
In her press notes to Filth and Wisdom, her first film
as a director, Madonna says she has always been inspired by the films
of Godard, Visconti, Pasolini and Fellini, but she fails to acknowledge
her most obvious artistic influence. Her film - a wacky tale of three
roommates, two gals and one guy, who share an apartment and get up to
all kinds of naughty mischief, while dreaming of their futures - is
clearly indebted to the seventies sitcom Three's Company.
Madonna repatriated the series (it was originally a British series called Man about the House) by moving it to London and updating a few details.
The male roommate is named A.K. (Eugene Hutz, front man of the
gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello). Gangly, swaggering and mustachioed,
he's a sexy version of Borat, similarly given to absurd malapropisms
("Look who dragged in the cat!") and introducing sentences with the
phrase, "In my country, we have a saying. . . ." A.K. is the narrator
of our story who explains its moral: "Filth and weesdom . . . two sides
of same coin." (Is it possible Madonna was thinking of the Queen and
the beaver on the Canadian nickel?) A.K. wants to be a rock star (there
are many cutaways to Hutz's boisterous band), but has a side gig
dressing up in costumes and humiliating men for their sexual pleasure
and, presumably, our laughs.
The equivalent to Three's Company's Chrissie (who was played
by Suzanne Somers) is the sweet but dim Holly (Holly Weston), an
aspiring ballet dancer who inspires A.K.'s romantic side. At his
suggestion, she starts making a living stripping at a grubby nightclub
to show off her premium body.
The other flat mate is the gloomy career girl, Juliette, who endures
the attentions of her middle-aged Indian boss (Inder Manocha) at the
pharmacy where she works and steals drugs, while she dreams of going to
Africa to save babies. "She doesn't know she's starving too," A.K. says.
Astute Madonna scholars will note how she and co-scriptwriter Dan
Cadan (a crew member with Madonna's soon-to-be ex-husband, filmmaker
Guy Ritchie) have reconfigured each of these characters as aspects of
the Madonna persona: rock star with a flare for gay kink, blond
exhibitionist, African baby saver.
But where, you must be asking, is Mr. Roper who lives downstairs?
That role is played by Richard E. Grant, although this time his
frustration is more creative than erotic. The character is Professor
Flynn, a poet, who gave up his art when he lost his eyesight and now
sits in his padded armchair wearing a wistful smile while making
half-hearted come-ons to A.K., who runs errands for him. Grant's
performance is awful, which is a shame since he is also the best actor
in the film.
Reportedly, the movie began life as a short film, and if it actually
ran for 22 minutes with a few commercial breaks, like a good sitcom
should, Filth and Wisdom could be bearable. At 84 minutes, the
movie feels both overpadded and underdeveloped. Apart from Holly
learning to enjoy stripping by mimicking a Britney Spears video, it's
not apparent that any of the characters learns anything. Instead of
character development, we get lots of montages - A.K. trying to market
his band's CD; Holly and her friends, in underwear, practising dancing.
Instead of jokes, we get ethnic slurs (the Indian is called Randy
Gandhi, the Ukrainian "Russky," and a Jewish man who likes being
When it comes to wisdom, the best line - actually the only good line
- is this bit of sad sex-worker insight: "The problem with having a
cash box in your body is that you always feel empty even when it's
full." As for the filth in Filth and Wisdom, there's no more than a whiff of it, and it's rapidly smothered in a deodorizer of sentimental cliché.