Madonna as the Maternal Girl: Bad Casting

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Madonna and child in Malawi yesterday.Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Madonna is famous and infamous for her sinful buffet of personas. She's been a geisha, a virgin, and a dominatrix, but she's always been an original. Which is what's so troubling about her latest reinvention. Why is she trying to be Angelina Jolie?

Madonna's current, hugely publicized trip to Malawi — the native country of her adopted son, David — is torn from the pages of The Canonization of Angelina. Bravely, Madge has scrubbed the makeup from her face (see Jolie, Angelina, Vanity-Free Goodwill Missions Of), visited orphanages (see: Jolie, Angelina, Demonstrations of Compassion for Orphaned Children By), and taken David to see his father (see Jolie, Angelina, Frequent Trips to Cambodia to Help Maddox Understand His Heritage Mandated By). But in striving to remind us she's really just a Maternal Girl at heart, Madonna's treading territory that feels très Jolie — and that "been-there, done-that" feeling is unusual when we're talking about a woman who put herself on a crucifix every night of her last tour.

With ever-younger stars stealing her scandalous thunder, Madonna needs to keep morphing (and thank God, because nobody liked the fake British accent phase). Adopting Jolie's Mother of the Millennium persona at first doesn't seem like such a bad choice. After all, the two stars are cut from a fairly similar cloth: Even the boundary-incinerating Old Madonna can't quite compete with a knife-collecting, blood-vial-wearing bisexual bad girl who made out with her brother at an awards show and couldn't stop yapping about how she and Billy Bob Thornton might accidentally kill each other because the sex was so intense.

Though Jolie's image as the nurturing, cultured family woman is losing stamina, she did manage a massive image turnaround in just a couple years. Now that Madonna's being dogged by unpleasant reports of a crumbling marriage to Guy Ritchie and a former nanny pimping a nasty tell-all, it's the perfect time to trot out the kid on a reunion tour with his native land.

The trouble is, Madonna's actions don't come off as authentic as Jolie's do. It's not that we think either one is adopting without genuinely loving intentions. But everything in Hollywood is choreographed, so it's what around the adoption that makes us more or less cynical about its purpose. Where Angelina's philanthropy was well established, and zealously continued since the kids, Madge's giving streak seems like a very sudden invention. Angelina has sold exclusive prints for millions, but cleverly gives the loot to charity, simultaneously feeding the beast while helping dispel stalkerazzi frenzy. Madonna visited orphanages where the kids reportedly chucked rocks at reporters to keep them away. That's a stroke of amusing genius, but it also ensures the stubborn, mildly antagonized photographers will stay put and snap pics just to spite you.

But subtlety was never Madonna's strength. Though that's great when you're prancing around a stage in a leotard and top hat, the blatant approach doesn't work when you're peddling a softer, gentler side. And, really, she shouldn't be begging for people's regard like this the first place. She's freaking Madonna. She's not supposed to be making plays for public affection, and she's certainly not supposed to be walking a trail someone else forged first. The Madonna of yore would want to slap her silly. And that we'd certainly tune in for.
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