Jane Graham: Why Material Girl Madonna is looking frayed
Seeing Madonna embarrass her children by dragging yet another star-blinded young stud onto the dancefloor this week, it struck me that the 52-year-old Ms Ciccone has now completed what will probably be her final transformation — from the Queen of Pop to a sad, sorry, salutary tale.
Does Madonna really imagine, as she slaps on a fake smile and pours her punished body into another leather basque, that the world is gazing on in envy and admiration?
Probably, a lifetime of being surrounded by toadying yes-men looking to bask in the glow of your fame and wealth can do that to a person. But to most of us, she simply seems to grow more delusional with each cruel passing year.
Of course it’s the bizarre coping mechanisms celebrities like Madonna employ to combat the deterioration of collagen which have created the cultural consensus that time is ‘cruel’ to women. Her high profile struggle against getting older — cryogenics are surely only a shot of courage away — suggests that successful females in the public eye have no choice but battle against the inevitable until the bitter end, looking less heroic and more pitiful with each new photo shoot.
But this week I went to see Lisa Cholodenko’s new film, The Kids Are All Right, and was presented with a 52-year-old with a different approach to middle-aged womanhood.
Annette Bening — aka Mrs Warren Beatty — is also 52, and looks it. Her jowls sag a little, her neck has a hint of turkey to it, but she’s not only far sexier than Madonna, she’s also one of the most dignified and high-achieving players in Hollywood. And she seems — gasp! — happy too.
If half of what’s written is true, then Madonna is addicted to testing out any new technology which claims youth-injecting properties.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying a bit of Botox to cheer yourself up, but the results of Madonna’s obsessive experimenting are not attractive. It’s not just that she appears, alternatively, puffy, swollen, gaunt or stretched; there’s also a haunted look of fatigue and desperation in her eyes.
Bening on the other hand looks rested, contented, soft and maternal. Her face is full of personality and warmth and exudes calm confidence.
Madonna’s hunt for youth has of course become literal; since her divorce from Guy Ritchie she has paraded a series of men barely out of adolescence alongside her.
She must believe that her lithe baby-boyfriends make her the envy of other women, but, really, they just make her look like an insecure embarrassing mum who never gets to have an interesting conversation.
How ironic that Bening is married to Beatty, the old bed-hopper Madonna famously failed to tame but who gave it all up the moment he met the formidable Bening, with whom he settled down and had four children.
Bening has proved that it is possible even in Hollywood — the most looks and career-obsessed neighbourhood on the planet — to get off the ladder to have children, allow yourself to be almost forgotten by your peers, and return to make some of the best work of your life in your early fifties.
Madonna, the most fiercely competitive pop star of the last three decades, hasn’t made a good record for five years, though she pedals furiously to keep her profile skyscrapingly high.
There is so much she could learn from the intelligent, benevolent, self-contained Mrs Beatty — but the truth is, she probably can’t bear to look at her.