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Madonna’s Biopic Stalled After the Script Got Too Edgy

Photo by Jeff Fusco/Getty Images
Madonna on stage.

Forty years into Madonna’s career and it’s still amazing how many people misinterpret the central messaging of her various projects. Now, you can reportedly add Universal Pictures to that camp.

The studio had partnered with Madonna in hopes of producing her own self-directed musical biopic. According to a report in Page Six, executives were expecting something “pop and light.” The Material Girl, however, wanted to make something far “grittier.” The differences apparently led to a stalemate, and the project was called off officially after Madonna announced her globe-spanning greatest hits show, The Celebration Tour. Pour one out for Julia Garner, who was reportedly set to star after winning the rumored “Madonna Bootcamp.”

“She’d rather go to another studio than change the script. She still wants to make the film, but will now look at it again after the tour,” a source told Page Six. “She’s keeping the same writers, but is aware that she might have to recast if the actors aren’t available.”

The recent fad of blockbuster musical biopics has indeed leaned toward the poppier and lighter end of the spectrum. Bohemian Rhapsody was heavily criticized for its odd handling of Freddie Mercury’s sexuality. Elton John’s Rocketman was a bubblegum fantasia concerned more with spectacle and delight than factual drama. Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody was criticized by IndieWire as a Wikipedia biography section punctuated by musical numbers. Elvis was directed by Baz Luhrmann, as if we need to say more. These days, the idea seems to be that musician biopics are supposed to be nostalgia-inducing seat fillers heavy on big, crowd-pleasing musical numbers.

But as always, Madonna apparently sought something with a more subversive tone.

She’s the Queen of Pop, yes, but she earned that title by bucking convention, courting controversy, and freely sampling from the more underground and artier corners of culture. Her music videos alone have found inspiration in works as varied as Maya Deren’s 1943 experimental short Meshes of the Afternoon, Fritz Lang’s German Expressionist classic Metropolis, and Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka. She’s pissed off the Vatican, how many times at this point? We agree she is “pop”—but “light?” Did you ever see the original cut of the “American Life” video? “Light” it is decidedly not.

Another more spurious tabloid report claims that Madonna’s social media post scared off film executives. Whatever the case, the emerging narrative seems to be that someone expected Madonna to suddenly stop acting like Madonna in service of making a movie about Madonna’s life.

There still seems to be plenty of demand for whatever entertainment product she wants to sell, though. Several dates on her upcoming tour sold out in minutes, and she’s even added a few dates due to demand. According to the report, Madonna will regroup on the film after the tour’s completion and is ready and willing to take the project elsewhere. The next studio has plenty of time to realize that they’re dealing with Madonna.

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