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Tuesday, April 16
The Indiana Daily Student

arts

COLUMN: “Madame Web” is unintentionally the funniest movie of the year

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In 1855, Walt Whitman’s gargantuan poem “Song of Myself” was published, and the world was blessed with one of his most influential verses: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.).” 

The verse is a beautiful sentiment about humanity’s complexity and the contradictions we exhibit simply by existing. It’s also what flooded my mind as I laid in bed after watching – no, experiencing – the cinematic anomaly that is “Madame Web.” 

“Madame Web” is a film containing multitudes. It’s somehow both the worst and best movie I’ve ever seen: The plot is incoherent, but I understood every detail. The protagonist, Cassie (Dakota Johnson), is unusually mean and frequently abandons the three young women she’s supposed to protect. It’s a film filled with bizarre choices and Pepsi product placement. But it’s exactly what it needed to be. 

The film opens with — you guessed it — a closeup of a spiderweb in the Amazon Rainforest. In this flashback sequence, we’re introduced to spider researcher Constance Webb, Cassie’s very pregnant mom (the spider research grind never stops), and her partner, Ezekiel. When they find an unidentified spider that possesses rare healing properties, Ezekiel betrays Constance, shoots her and steals the spider for himself. An Indigenous tribe tries to save Constance by giving her the spider’s venom, but she dies shortly after giving birth to Cassie. 

Fast forward thirty years to 2003. Cassie now works as a paramedic in New York City. After she almost dies on the job, she begins to experience clairvoyant visions. She initially dismisses them as déjà vu, but when one of her visions shows three young women being murdered by Ezekiel, she intervenes and helps them escape. On the run from Ezekiel and the cops (due to an unfortunate kidnapping misunderstanding), Cassie must learn to understand and harness her abilities. 

It feels important to establish that Cassie, the titular Madame Web, has no physical powers or extraordinary abilities. She can see into the future sometimes, but when it comes to inflicting actual damage, she’s as useless as the distractingly fake wig on Sydney Sweeney’s head. In fact, nobody in this movie has superpowers except for Ezekiel, who (maybe?) has super strength. Even his powers aren’t defined. 

“Madame Web” is a superhero movie with no superheroes. In Cassie and Ezekiel’s visions, we see the three young women in costume, taking on Ezekiel with spider-esque powers. But do we see how they earn these abilities? Nope! That’d be silly! 

The plot feels like a tease — it’s all set-up and no payoff. It’s as if the first act was stretched from 30 minutes to two hours. Because of this, the pacing moves at an exponentially sluggish rate.  

On the other hand, the dialogue is so unnatural, forced and downright absurd that it’s almost fascinating to listen to. Dakota Johnson's performance echos her unbothered and unfiltered press tour run, as she delivers her lines with minimal effort and maximum annoyance. Johnson's bangs have more charisma than she does, but can you blame her? If I had to deliver lines like “us strays have to stick together,” I’d put my brain on autopilot too.  

But at least Johnson says her lines. Ezekiel’s dialogue is delivered almost entirely through automated dialogue replacement, a process in which actors re-record dialogue in a controlled environment during the post-production phase. It’s a bizarre fix for what I’m assuming was an unfortunate production issue. Anytime his back is turned away from the camera, it sounds like he’s speaking through a voiceover. Sometimes, when his face is in frame, the dialogue doesn’t line up with his mouth movements. Once you notice, it’s hard to ignore, but then again, why would you want to ignore one of “Madame Web’s” many eccentricities? 

To top it all off, the editing is Wacky with a capital W. Not only is the 180-degree rule constantly broken, but there are so. many. artificial zooms. Too many zooms to count. It’s jarring. It’s beautiful. It’s “Madame Web.” 

“Madame Web” has very few (if any) redeemable qualities, but it did give me one of the most fun theater experiences I’ve ever had, and for that I’m grateful. Calling “Madame Web” so-bad-it's-good is an understatement. It can barely be considered a movie at all, but that’s what makes it special.

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