Who Does Madonna Wanna Be?

In her new movie, the answer is superstar and den mother

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Work and play, lovers and family are the touchstones of Truth or Dare. Madonna sweats bullets to make her tour sensational, and she bustles behind the scenes too. She leads a group prayer before each concert; she bastes the broken hearts of her staff. Like many strong actress-singers, Madonna has a fervent gay following, and most of her dancers are gay. To them she is a doting den mother, turning stern only when things get bitchy. It's a tough job, juggling dozens of fragile egos along with her armored one, but she has balls enough for everybody. The crew is her moody brood, and she is Mama Madonna, single parent.

She is also, the movie says, an adoring daughter, honoring her father with a fond, wet rendition of Happy Birthday. But in the family scenes, among many others, one gets the sense of an actress playing, so coolly, with a moviegoer's expectations. Watch the star at the grave of her mother, who died when Madonna was five. Dolled up in modified Marilyn, she kneels and kisses the tombstone. Then she says she wants to be buried next to her mother and stretches out, comfy, on the ground. What's going on here? Is this a cemetery or a campsite? Spontaneous emotion or a piece of avant-garde performance art for the mass audience? The flummoxed viewer is at a loss to decide. Madonna gives great mind jobs.

Cinema verite, the genre Truth or Dare fits into, is supposed to mean movie truth, but it's all about exhibition. The camera doesn't reveal who people are; it shows what they are trying to be. If they are adept at using themselves and others, they will shine. And Madonna -- who has played more roles in a decade of camera courtship than Katharine Hepburn has in 60 years of movie stardom -- radiates luxe, wit and common sense playing a semi-real character based on a fiction named Madonna.

Hard to say if this is movie Truth. But it's spectacular Dare.

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