This is a fairly simple job. You watch a movie and come up with a series of nouns, verbs and adjectives to describe it. It's not rocket science. There are no wrong answers. And this is what I've been telling myself for several hours now. Still, I'm having trouble coming up with the words to describe "Swept Away," Guy Ritchie's remake of Lina Wertmuller’s 1974 film starring his wife, Madonna. I apologize in advance. And I promise to work hard to regain your trust.
When people say "words don’t describe it" they typically mean to indicate either awestruck pleasure or dumbstruck horror. Sadly, "Swept Away" falls in neither of these camps. That would be too easy. Let's start with the premise, which surely must rank as one of mankind's most ancient daydreams: an aristocratic woman is shipwrecked with a poor fisherman, the two are forced to switch class roles and they soon find themselves in love on a beautiful deserted island.
Director Ritchie saw a lot of ways to run with this material, and he ran with them all. “Swept Away 2002” is a comedy and a romantic heartbreaker. It can unfold slowly or in staccato scene changes. It's chock full of poignancy. It's riddled with irreverence. It's very European. It's totally Hollywood. It's political. It's silly. It’s erotic. It's tame. It's discomforting. It's escapist. It's brually real. It's a music video, a star vehicle, and a low budget film from a quirky British studio. It's like when you can't choose a color from the Crayola box and decide to use them all. And between the cobalt blue, burnt umber and canary yellow, you end up with something just plain brown.
It's hard to watch "Swept Away" without constantly being aware of Madonna, the pop culture icon. This is problematic for a woman still looking to prove her chops as an actress, and she turns in a very brown performance. In the first half when she is merely asked to act like a spoiled, demanding partially clad diva, she plays it like a woman getting off-screen emotional cues like "disdain" or "outrage" or "boredom." At these junctures you don’t have to be a Madonna basher to acknowledge that the woman is not a gifted actress. Later in the film, when Adriano Giannini’s fisherman finally has the nerve to stand up to her, to hurt and humiliate her, Madonna has brief flashes of something deep and real. Which made me reflect more on Madonna the diva, than Amber the character. Somewhere in the middle, Guy Ritchie simply lets Madonna be Madonna in a stylish music video of "Come-On-A-My-House" that is inexplicable in the context of the movie, but could possibly be a reward to his famous wife for being a good sport. Though notably buff and ever fashionable, the 44 year old sex symbol spends much of "Swept Away" portraying the last person you’d want to be stuck with on a desert island.
Guy Ritchie has proven he can make a film that doesn’t rely on East End gangsters. But even awash in the romance of "Swept Away," he is most comfortable with the sailors, the cooks and the cigar chewing men. He has photographed a beaufiul sun-drenched mess of a film. And Madonna lovers and Madonna haters will be equally satisfied with the result.
I’m afraid that’s the best I can do.
© 2002 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 10/9/02
US/UK - 2002