Swept Away, the 2002 remake of Lina Wertmüller’s Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto (you can see why they changed the name), was universally acknowledged as one of the worst movies ever made. This, in part, has to do with the fact that Madonna is its star. Notorious for making “bad movies” (though this is a rather unfair statement considering her Golden Globe for Evita), Madonna was doomed to be condemned no matter how well the film turned out. Directed by her then husband, Guy Ritchie, Swept Away addresses a specific time in American economic history that should not be overlooked.
Released to limited theaters on October 11, 2002, Swept Away never really had a chance. Keep in mind this was also the year Crossroads and Maid in Manhattan came out, and, at that time, Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez may have had more clout in terms of drawing in audiences. Plus, every audience has their threshold for how many pop star-featuring movies it can see. While this may have been the year when classics like Adaptation and About Schmidt were released as well, there is something unique about Swept Away–something that shows us the state of society in the early 00s.
Guy Ritchie, who also wrote the screenplay, presents us with a heroine of dubious character in the form of spoiled socialite Amber Leighton (Madonna). Already, the casting is perfect as no one knows how to emulate a rich bitch better than Madonna. Her husband, Tony (Bruce Greenwood), takes her and a group of her fellow affluent friends on a private cruise from Greece to Italy. Her wealth and the ability to have whatever she wants–whenever she wants–is sickening to the ship’s first mate, Giuseppe Esposito (Adriano Giannini, whose father, Giancarlo, played the same role in the original film). His simple life and overall poverty-stricken state is, likewise, appalling to Amber.
In a freshly post-9/11 world, the gap between rich and poor seemed ever-widening–particularly under the presidency of George W. Bush, who favored the wealthy quite overtly. Thus, the timeliness of Swept Away was rather appropriate in spite of the original version looking more specifically toward communist politics in Italy. Moreover, the tension created by disparate social classes is highlighted with comedic flair by Ritchie, often underrated for his knack for capturing the hilarity of the absurd.
As for the romantic aspect of the story, it is unfolded with grace and believability as the tides turn (literally) in favor of Giuseppe being in control. After they go out on their own dinghy for a tour–even though Giuseppe cautions Amber against it–the two are soon “swept away” by the unruly waves of the Mediterranean. They wash ashore on a deserted island, much to Amber’s disbelief as she insists there is no such thing as deserted islands in the twenty-first century. His occasional slaps across Amber’s face may also have been too much for modern audiences to deal with, even though the violence (and sodomy) factor was far more intense in the 1974 film. But, of course, now that he treats her with a little bit of disrespect, Amber is intrigued, and they quickly become fond of one another. Although this fondness leads to one of the cheesier scenes in the movie (in which they float up in the air as Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” plays), it is a romance that you want to triumph in the end.
Another divergent factor between the original and the remake is the way Ritchie chose to end it: In a tragic, tear-jerking manner. Whereas in Wertmüller’s film, the ending was prototypically comical in that tragicomic sort of Neapolitan way. Ritchie’s decision to conclude Swept Away on a morose note is yet another indication of the collective mindset in 2002. No one’s outlook for the future was bright, and most were still reeling from the events that threw the economy and the United States into a tailspin in 2001. And so, while Swept Away is not without certain flaws–and many might smirk at the assertion that it was the best movie of 2002–it was, quite possibly, the best movie of 2002.