Season 2 Episode 6
EXILE IN GOOPVILLE
Season 2 Episode 6
EXILE IN GOOPVILLE
Brian Burns buries the hatchet for Gwyneth and Madonna 💗🪓
Words by Brian Burns
Posted December 1, 2020
Gwyneth Paltrow took a drag off her American Spirit. This was her second cigarette of the week. But she had a formula for these moments of weakness, a contingency plan for the occasional crises that led her—shaking—to that pack of cigs stashed away in the freezer behind glass Pyrexes of bone broth. In this exact event, if Gwyneth did smoke more than her allowance of one (1) cigarette per week, she’d wake up the following day committed to drinking 48 additional ounces of alkaline water, she’d apply an otherwise only-before-bed vitamin C serum first thing in the morning, and she’d avoid being in the same room as anyone eating nightshades. As simple as that. The overindulgence of today balanced out and made pure by the promise of tomorrow.
Observing the ashes drifting down to the Emerald Zoysia grass of her Brentwood backyard, Gwyneth knew this was all Apple’s fault. Apple with her Generation Z fifth-wave feminism bullshit. "What does she know?" other mothers might think to themselves while getting schooled by their 16-year-old daughter in au courant gender politics. But not Gwyneth—a victim of her own child-rearing success.
“It’s actually patriarchy,” Apple said to her mother earlier that week, sprinkling nutritional yeast onto their dinner of vegan chilaquiles. “It’s stupid that you guys are still fully fighting. Just reach out to her, it’s literally that easy. Women need to support women. Isn’t that your entire thing?”
As Gwyneth bends down to extinguish her cigarette on the bottom of her Veja sneaker, grinning at the thought of her daughter’s brilliance, the back doors open. Marching at a pace gayer than usual, the color drained from his face, Kevin makes his way toward Gwyneth. Serving as GP’s assistant for the past decade, Kevin has been second-in-command while she built a brand, retired from acting, consciously uncoupled, and sang live at The Academy Awards. But never before had Gwyneth seen him so scared. And, before he even said a thing, she knew exactly why.
“GP,” says Kevin, finally. “She’s here. Madonna is here.”
What Gwyneth remembers best is how quickly it ended. One moment, she and Madonna—she and “M”—were friends, just two American girls living out the Bush administration in London with their uncircumcised husbands. And then the next: it was over. For years, she had dreams about it. Nightmares, really, about their final fight. “It’s either me or Tracy Anderson, take your pick. It’s that simple, Gwyneth.” Closing her eyes, she can still hear Madonna saying those words, delivering that ultimatum with her scalpel-sharp consonants and Elizabethan affect. It haunts her. Because it was that simple. Gwyneth refused to stop working out with their trainer so Madonna refused to stay friends with Gwyneth. It’s been 10 years.
“It’s been 10 years, Kevin,” hisses Gwyneth, following her assistant into the house. “Ten years and she still makes me shake like a fucking leaf.”
Gwyneth is jittery. The nicotine had all but cancelled out the beta-blocker she took earlier in the evening, leaving her nervous, vulnerable. Rounding the corner into the library, Gwyneth finds herself so overwhelmed that, for a moment, she blacks out.
“Hi, Gwyneth,” purrs Madonna.
Still in the throes of self-regulating, Gwyneth goes through the good manners motions. Grabbing Madonna at the elbows as they hug and kiss each other’s cheeks. But all the while, the only thing Gwyneth can focus her attention upon is how Madonna, after this interim decade, looks entirely the same and yet completely different. Trying desperately to identify what about her cheeks and forehead were so mystifying, Gwyneth catches Madonna’s gaze and, immediately, the line is drawn between past and present. Eye contact with Madonna proving to be the same sensation it always was—like locking eyes with a housecat who pounced on your lap and, out of nowhere, started speaking perfect French.
“Cat got your tongue?” says Madonna, girlishy.
“Ha! I know, right?” Gwyneth over-compensates. “I’m starving. I’m breaking a fast with tonight’s dinner so just majorly, like, agh!, flat-lining over here. I need a drink. Let’s have a drink?”
Hyper-conscious of her posture all of a sudden, Gwyneth walks to the bar cart in the far corner of the room. M’s cocktail of choice used to be a lemon drop. The rare times she’d ever allow herself a cocktail, Gwyneth recalls. But how awe-inspiring that self-discipline once was for Gwyneth. How amazed she used to be by her friend’s boundless energy, sensuality, confidence. A consummate workhorse. In ways Gwyneth was only just now realizing, as she plopped perfectly spherical ice cubes into tumblers, she owes so much of the lifestyle she sells to the lifestyle Madonna once shared with her.
“Is your air conditioning on?” Madonna asks.
Shit, thinks Gwyneth. During that morning’s meditation, she made a mental note to have Kevin turn off the thermostat. Madonna who hates being cold, Madonna who once told Gwyneth she’d only join her to that Coldplay concert if she herself called The O2 Arena and demanded it was 78 degrees or warmer for the duration of the show. How could she have forgotten? How?!
“I know,” flails Gwyneth. “It broke this afternoon. It’s been stuck at this absolutely freezing temperature ever since. So, let’s, uh, let’s put a pin in this and reintegrate outside.”
Kicking herself for tapping into BusinessSpeak while OOO, Gwyneth breathes a sigh of relief upon noticing that, if Madonna clocked it, she wasn’t going to make a comment. Not choosing to humiliate her, playfully, as she so often used to. Could time have softened her, Gwyneth wonders. Or is this just what happens when two friends who’ve drifted apart come back together, politely, to give it another try?
Telepathically, Gwyneth mind-whispers to Kevin, Change of plans. Bring us drinks and dinner out on the patio. Stat. Use the rest of the KetelOne Botanical in the freezer. And get Apple into an Uber to Dakota’s house. Tell Brad and Moses I’m still fasting, they’ll be too scared to come home early. And don’t you dare set Madonna’s plate onto the table from her right side. Just take my word on that. We’ve got this. GP loves you.
Taking their seats outside, Gwyneth sighs mightily, her eyes dazzling, “Anyway! So, tell me everything. I mean, you’re living in LA! For the first time in, what, like, forever?”
“Diablo Cody refused to relocate.”
“A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do when she’s writing the story of her life,” says Madonna, cheersing her drink with Gwyneth’s but then setting it back down without taking a sip. “I’m writing a screenplay with Diablo Cody. A biopicture. My career, my life. All its many twists and tumbles. And she wouldn’t come to me in Lisbon. Something about not wanting to take her children out of their schools. So here I am. Making a film.”
“Ugh! M! Power to you. I gave that shit up. I had enough of this town.”
“It’s something of a paradox, isn’t it?” Madonna says, maybe to Gwyneth, maybe to the Talmudic angels above. “Los Angeles. So lush on the surface, so empty at its core. It’s a challenge not to lose one’s memory here.”
Pack it up, Joan Didion, Kevin mind-whispers from inside the house.
“Shh,” says Gwyneth out loud, accidentally.
Madonna’s brow almost furrows.
“It’s definitely no London,” Gwyneth says, trying to broach a common ground. “Doesn’t that feel like yesterday? And then, like, a million years ago?”
“A million lifetimes ago,” corrects Madonna. “I have to say, I miss it sometimes. I miss the rigidity of London. I miss having so much staunchness to push back against.”
“Totally,” says Gwyneth, world-wearily. “Do you keep in touch with anybody from those days? It’s so hard.”
Taking her first sip, Madonna swallows, “Hmm. It’s funny, you know, I moved to some foreign place to marry a man and then we divorce and he keeps the country all for himself. A very English thing to do, if you think about it. But to answer your question—yes. Stella.”
“God, isn’t she just the best? I’m obsessed with her. She made my wedding dress for me. This second time around.”
“She designed my wedding dress as well,” says Madonna, stiffening in her seat.
Keenly aware of the ring on her finger, Gwyneth tucks her left hand at the chin and leans in toward Madonna. She’d just interviewed somebody for her podcast about emotionally-intelligent-power posing and, remembering what was said about women proving their most collaborative when contorted into vulva-like silhouettes, Gwyneth arches her back and hopes for body language to bridge their gap. And yet she struggles to think of a new topic. Silence hanging in the air nearly long enough for Gwyneth to consider asking her why Lourdes texted Apple that photo of a completely naked Daisy Duck a couple years back. But, not a moment too soon, Kevin came outside with a steaming dinner plate in each hand.
“Whole roasted branzino,” says Kevin, triple-checking his left-versus-right as he sets a plate in front of each woman. “Served with a Castelvetrano olive relish.”
“Was this cooked with butter?”
Kevin’s eyes dart to Gwyneth’s, hunting for confirmation and hoping for mercy.
“Um, where do you think you are? This is an olive oil-only household,” laughs Gwyneth, having, in fact, not a single clue how this fish was prepared.
“One should never assume in life,” says Madonna, taking her first bite of fish off the edge of her knife. “So: Goop.”
“Last I saw you, it was, what, just a little homing pigeon you’d messenger from your kitchen counter.”
“Oh my God. The newsletter! Hilarious. But, yeah, so much has changed since then. I mean, it’s my entire life. But I love it. I learn so much everyday. I mean, just this afternoon, we did the final round of tests for our newest regenerating instant facial cream formulated with stomach acid harvested from Inuit elders. Like, what? It’s amazing.”
“If it’s not the thermal waters of Montecatini, it’s snake oil,” says Madonna, daintily removing a bone from her grillz. “It’s all I use in my skin care line. But: different strokes!”
Suddenly desperate for a third cigarette, Gwyneth screams, “Kevin. Kevin! How about another round of drinks for us?”
Madonna pushes her plate away with a heavy exhale, “All that oil in the fish and now a second cocktail. Naughty, naughty!”
“I know. Tracy is gonna kick my ass tomorrow.”
The eye of a cyclone falls over Chez Paltrow. Staring at Gwyneth, Madonna swills the remnants of her first drink around in its glass, the implication of her cocked eyebrow making their silence all the more terrifying. Because even as the words were actively tumbling from her mouth, Gwyneth knew she'd made her greatest error of the night. That to utter Tracy Anderson’s name was to open a Pandora’s box jump. There was no going back.
“Tracy Anderson,” sing-songs Madonna. “You’re in phenomenal shape, Gwyneth. So, what shall we say—was it all worth it?”
Scoffing, Gwyneth says, “You know what? Enough. Enough! We weren’t in middle school, Madonna. You put me in a really shitty position. I loved both of you!”
“Yes but who employed Tracy as their trainer first?” asks Madonna.
“She changed my life! I was not about to ditch her out of the blue. I could have kept working out with her and stayed your friend.”
“A shitty friend!”
“Takes one to know one,” says Gwyneth.
Rarely did anything ever penetrate Madonna. So to speak. It was a trait Gwyneth often envied and all the more so in recent years. The more that GP’s suggestions of where to stick jade eggs accrued her global contempt, the more she wished she could brave ridicule as expertly as Madonna. So to look at her just then and register the sadness settling in her eyes after being called a shitty friend, Gwyneth felt an ugly kind of victory wash over herself. She would not need another cigarette tonight.
“I was opening up Hard Candy Fitness,” sighs Madonna. “My chain of gyms. And Tracy wanted nothing to do with it so I had to cut ties. I had to. It wasn’t personal, it was just business.”
“Business is personal,” says Gwyneth, hoping she’d remember that line for the next In Goop Health summit.
“I was...I was hurt. I was hurt so I hurt you.”
“I get it,” Gwyneth says. “God, you know...I’ve missed you.”
Nodding her head, somberly, Madonna whispers, “All this time—we could have been friends.”
Reveling, but only for a moment, in the thought of all the content that their public reconciliation could create, Gwyneth grabs Madonna’s hand, her lips curling into that quintessentially Paltrovian grin as she says, “I have an idea.”
Feeling around in the dark, Gwyneth flicks on the lights to her at-home gym. Spending two hours per day six times per week in this studio, there was no reason for it to feel unfamiliar. But walking into this space, this hallowed ground previously only ever consecrated by Tracy Anderson herself, it meant something wholly new with Madonna beside her. Fitting perfectly into a pair of Moses’s sneakers and making do with tights and a tank from Gwyneth’s own closet, Madonna gets down to the ground and stretches in anticipation of their work-out.
“Okay, this is embarrassing,” giggles Gwyneth, picking out a playlist and fiddling with the speakers, “But for the first, like, year I worked out with you? I had diarrhea before every single session. Every single session!”
“You made me so nervous!”
“Well, stranger things could happen,” says Madonna, slowly making her way out of a headstand. “I was serious about that fish being oily.”
Gwyneth turns on the music and, screaming at the top of her lungs, hoots and hops her way over to Madonna. Exploding with the bouncing jouissance of a rabbit. Both women, cut from the very same lycra cloth, immediately envigored by the pain of what they’d soon endure. Madonna had long forgotten Tracy’s routines so it was Gwyneth who led them through the steps. Barking “Arms up!” and “Left oblique swoop!” and “Weakness is the original sin!” Though they were shoulder to shoulder, Gwyneth kept her gaze fixed forward the whole time. Never looking at the person beside her so much as the mirrored reflections ahead of her. It made for a pretty picture. Two blonds arching their legs and engaging their cores, right in time with one other, an immaculate collection. If she didn’t know any better, Gwyneth just might think she was looking at two very good friends.