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Filth and Wisdom

D: Madonna / 80m

Cast: Eugene Hutz, Holly Weston, Vicky McClure, Richard E. Grant, Inder Manocha, Elliot Levey, Francesca Kingdon, Clare Wilkie, Stephen Graham, Hannah Walters, Shobu Kapoor

A somewhat philosophically inclined comedy surrounding three flatmates, A.K. (Hutz), Holly (Weston) and Juliette (McClure), Filth and Wisdom charts their attempts to find love, job fulfilment, and to make sense of their lives.

A.K. works as a dom (a male dominatrix), while Holly is a struggling dancer, and Juliette works in a chemist’s.  All three of them are floundering through life, trying to get ahead but never getting further than where they are.  When he isn’t abusing middle-aged men for money, A.K. is a furrow-browed philosopher, keen to point out the futilities of life or the conundrums of existence as he sees them.  Hutz – the lead singer of gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello – spends most of the movie spouting apothegms and cod-literate sayings to camera.  Some of these sayings strive for importance and/or relevance to the events happening elsewhere in the movie but they have a poor success rate.

Holly attends regular dance lessons but seems to be getting no further in her ambition to be a dancer.  She visits a club and is offered a job there by the owner, Harry Beechman (Graham).  She agrees to audition only to find the job is pole dancing.  Terrible at it at first, she is taken under the wing of Francine (Kingdon), and soon becomes more confident.

Meanwhile, Juliette is treading water at the chemists’s, run by Sardeep (Manocher).  She steals pills off the shelves when he’s not looking though she doesn’t seem to have a drug problem; she’s just bored and wants to do something more meaningful.  She has a running battle with Sardeep over which charity collection box is more deserving: starving Africans or starving Asians.  All the while she is unaware that Sardeep – who is married – is attracted to her.

Downstairs from the three flatmates lives blind Professor Flynn (Grant).  A.K. gets his groceries for him and spends time with him.  Flynn is a melancholy figure surrounded by books he can no longer read.  As the movie progresses he becomes more and more withdrawn.

Filth and Wisdom - scene

Filth and Wisdom drew some unfavourable criticism when it was first released, and to be fair some of it is justifiable.  A.K. is just the kind of waffle-spouting poseur you’d cross the road to avoid.  This isn’t Hutz’s fault, it’s just the way the character’s written.  In fact, Hutz does well enough to create a modestly well-rounded character when he’s interacting with others, especially in his scenes with Professor Flynn.  Otherwise, when he’s talking to camera you just wish he’d get it over with.

Given roughly equal screen time, Weston and McClure fare better for having more straightforward roles, and both actresses shine.  Grant’s role is a little more complex but Professor Flynn is a secondary character, and once the script reaches a certain point, his storyline is discontinued.  The supporting cast, particularly Manocher, fare equally well, and there’s a lovely scene between Holly and Professor Flynn at a restaurant, but what scuppers Filth and Wisdom is its lack of focus from one scene to the next.  When Hutz is on screen it’s almost as if he’s acting in another movie entirely, and some scenes have a Seventies feel to them, as if Madonna’s main point of reference for filming in the UK was sitcoms from that era, such as Man About the House or Love Thy Neighbour; for such a cosmopolitan city, London comes across as parochial and insular.

And then there is the final scene.  It takes place at a Gogol Bordello concert and unites all the main characters, including a suddenly much happier Professor Flynn.  As if that isn’t jarring enough, there’s been no previous indication that A.K. is in a band at all.  Still, maybe it was a contractual obligation for Hutz appearing in the movie.

Filth and Wisdom isn’t quite as bad as some people would have it, but it does fall down far too often for its own good (although it does always get back up on its feet and try again – you can’t fault it for that).  Madonna, making her directorial debut, contributes some haphazard direction, while the script, which she co-wrote with Dan Cadan, shouldn’t have tried to sum up the trials and tribulations of daily life as it does.  The photography is dull, reflecting the environs in which it was shot, and the music – for a Madonna movie – isn’t entirely memorable.  However, the movie does manage to hold the viewer’s attention and there are far worse movies you could spend eighty minutes watching.

Rating: 5/10 – not bad, but not good, and too casual in its set up, Filth and Wisdom doesn’t always make as much sense as it thinks it does; with little wisdom (and even less filth) on display, the movie ends up failing to convince.

Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.