Friday, December 11, 2009

A Decade of Dreck #18: Swept Away


According to Wikipedia, Swept Away is a romantic comedy. Never have I seen a movie like this one, that fails at both the romance, and the comedy. It centers around two characters that are so inherently unlikeable that I suppose they deserve one another. But this doesn't mean I want to spend 90 minutes of my life while they figure this out for themselves.

We've seen the plot of this movie before. There's a rich American housewife who is living an unsatisfying life and, through a remarkable series of coincidences, falls in love with the scruffy, disheveled first mate on an Italian boat. There is an initial problem right off the bat, however. Madonna stars the bitchy wife of That Dude Who Was The President In National Treasure 2. Her personality is that she is rich. In most romantic comedies, this would mean that she is sheltered as to the ways of the world, perhaps naïve, never having had to fend for herself before. Not so in Swept Away. In this movie, because Madonna is rich, she is evil. Not just snobbish or condescending. I'm talking deeply malevolent, delighting in causing pain and misfortune to others. While she and her husband are on a cruise from Italy to Greece (or maybe Greece to Italy - the script is sort of confused on this point), she delights in tormenting Giuseppe, the first mate on their boat.

The first half of the movie is a desperate attempt to portray some sort of class conflict - the rich American tourist versus the lowly Italian sailor. This attempt at political relevance only pans out in the most shallow of ways. At one point, Madonna and Giuseppe debate the merits of capitalism. As if this sort of scene weren't already thrilling enough, Madonna turns to look at the camera and gives the audience the dictionary definition of the term, complete with an explication of the laws of supply and demand. Giuseppe himself does not believe in capitalism because he is in touch with Nature. Or something like that. We know this because he delivers a monologue as to the dangers of pesticides that has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the movie.

Due to some convoluted plot point, Madonna and Giuseppe find themselves stranded in a small dinghy in the middle of the sea, and eventually make their way to a deserted island. There, Giuseppe decides that he needs to demonstrate to Madonna that the laws of capitalism do not apply in a Hobbesian state of nature. And this is where the movie gets truly appalling.

Apparently angry that Madonna asked for a refill one to many times while on the ship, Giuseppe lashes out. And by lashes out, I mean he beats her. Repeatedy. He slaps her and trips her and makes her sleep in the rain and the cold. He denies her food. He orders her to wash his clothes and cook for him. At one point, he stands naked in front of her, and shouts "I am the master and you are my slave!". Later, he throws her down to the sand and orders her to "Show me your tits!" I mean, I got annoyed at customers when I worked as a waiter, but I never fantasized about beating the crap out of them while declaring "I'll show you a real man!"

Of course, Madonna falls in love with him in no time. Literally. There is absolutely no character development, no sexual tension. Out of nowhere, Madonna wanders into camp and starts kissing Giuseppe's calloused feet. Fade to black.

Beating and humiliating a woman until she has sex with you? You know, there's a term for this sort of thing and it's called Stockholm Syndrome.

This movie was directed by Guy Ritchie, who was married to Madonna at this point in time. It says some interesting things about their relationship. Why did Ritchie cast his wife has a bitchy, foul-mouthed, self-obsessed good for nothing harpie of a woman? A woman who apparently has to be saved by a "real" man? Did he hate her that much even in 2002? At one point, the script calls for Madonna to be a bad singer. By that point, it seemed like Ritchie was going out of his way to mock his wife.

Not only that, Ritchie named the Madonna's character "Amber Leighton", after his mother. All you Freudian scholars can take over from here.

By the time the movie ended, all I could think was, with a mounting sense of dread, "This man is in charge of the Sherlock Holmes movie coming out on the 25th. Oh no..." I was hoping for a Merry Sherlock Christmas, but this movie doesn't give me a whole lot of hope. Then again, as long as Holmes doesn't end up beating Watson into submission, that movie's bound to be better.