Madonna in Paramount+’s ‘Madame X’
An impressively designed production from a star hoping to convey the deep empathy she feels for pretty much every group suffering during these troubled times, Madonna’s Madame X showcases the eponymous album, in which she draws on new influences ranging from Colombian rap to Portuguese fado. An uncharitable observer might dub this The Appropriation Tour, aligning a star whose relevance has faded with both unimpeachably authentic music and the in-the-streets energy of social justice movements. But wherever one draws the line between supporting a group and co-opting it, X captures a night of solid performances and top-notch stagecraft. Just don’t show up if you’re looking to hear the old stuff.
After an introductory montage tying the secret agent-like Madame X persona to the scandals provoked by the real-life Madonna (best bit: “The most controversial thing I have ever done is to stick around”), things kick off with a very peculiar disclaimer: “Don’t forget – none of this is real.”
That’s peculiar because, for much of the next two hours, Madonna works so hard to remind us of things that most certainly are real: war, climate change, out-of-control policing and racial injustice, to name just a few. There’ll be no Holiday here, folks, but there will be James Baldwin quotes, pounded out on a typewriter while a Black man mimes being gunned down.
And there will be the pop star, singing God Control in militaristic garb inspired by the Revolutionary War, pushing back against a modern-day police riot shield. Or, during the next song, shouting “Death to the patriarchy!” as a faux cop hauls her away.
Leading a quite large cast of dancers, singers and musicians who are nearly entirely people of color, Madonna leaves most of the dancing to others: Her moves are constrained and sometimes stiff compared to her fluid and energetic co-stars; multiple times, the movie all but forgets her as it gives us a look, sometimes via prerecorded footage, at an unidentified soloist with some real choreography to show off. (In scenes with more than a couple of dancers, the editing is usually too fast, and the shots framed too closely, to do justice to choreographers’ use of the stage.)
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