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And You Can Dance, for Desperation

Filth and Wisdom (2008)

IFC Films

Directed by a mysterious first-time director named Madonna, “Filth and Wisdom” suffers from the amateurism that so often comes attached to such vanity projects. The story of three London roommates experiencing the highs and lows of their highly sexualized modern lives, the film relies too heavily on techniques that better filmmakers try to minimize: excessive first person narration and music-video montages. It also has the misfortune of starring Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hutz, who with his large mullet, thick mustache and even thicker accent functions as such an Eastern European caricature that he’s impossible to take seriously.

Certainly, moments of humor and grace emerge from the morass, largely involving Juliette (Vicky McClure), a pharmacy technician stealing drugs, and Holly (Holly Weston), a ballerina who turns to stripping for the cash. Longtime Madonna chum Richard E. Grant plays a blind professor who lives in their basement: a ridiculous character, but one that he can’t help but make distinguished and occasionally compelling. Yet just as the movie threatens to inspire some empathy, the Hutz wrecking ball reemerges and robs it of any credibility.

When “Filth and Wisdom” is at its worst, it panders to its maker’s more cartoonish instincts. Multiple scenes devolve into slapstick depictions of supposedly risqué sexual activities. If Madonna wants us to actually consider the circumstances – tragic or otherwise – that would inspire Mr. Hutz’s character to become a prostitute specializing in weird fetishes, or those that cause Juliette to steal lots of pharmaceuticals, she needs to capture those activities with something less than unrestrained comic glee. The sleek, lighthearted touch seems completely at odds with the serious subjects being portrayed and the shared ability of the characters to simply brush off various traumas and indignities rings patently false.


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