It seems inevitable that after trying stage and film acting, publishing several books, and maintaining a still-vibrant career at the top of the pop world, Madonna Louise Ciccone would jump into the world of directing feet first. Filth and Wisdom, her first feature, is more shaggy-dog story than anything else, and depends a lot on the antic charms of Ukrainian rocker and Gogol Bordello bandleader Eugene Hutz (a real discovery in Everything Is Illuminated). But it is amiable, has a quirky sense of humor, and with its short running time refuses to overstay its welcome. Give the girl credit—this is a credible piece of work.

Basically the tale of a group of people waiting for their ships to come in, Filth and Wisdom stars Hutz as A.K., a rocker hoping for his big break. He lives in a sprawling London home with Juliette (Vicky McClure), a pharmacy clerk who longs to help the starving children of Africa, and Holly (Holly Weston), A.K.’s girlfriend, who can’t seem to find a gig or anything else that pleases her. Also thrown into the mix are Sardeep (Inder Manocha), Juliette’s boss, burdened with a harridan wife and a bunch of wild kids, and Professor Flynn (Richard E. Grant), a depressed blind poet for whom A.K. runs errands.

The film bounces happily back and forth among all these characters and their problems, stopping along the way for A.K. to face the camera and deliver some bizarre Russian saying, or drop a line like “Without filth, there is no wisdom.” In other words, if you don’t suffer, you’ll never be happy. Or something like that.

Hutz, who has toured with Madonna, is one of those forces of nature that are impossible to resist. Rail-thin, with a handlebar mustache, borscht-thick accent and a sartorial style that could best be described as demented 21st-century Cossack, he and his band play a pounding style of music that combines rock with gypsy rhythms. They are sensational, and Hutz is a terrific showman.

As the linchpin of this slender tale, you could do a lot worse than this Ukrainian wildman. For Filth and Wisdom wraps up everyone’s lives pleasantly and neatly, if not always convincingly. Still, the feel-good aspects of the movie, and its quietly subversive comedic touch, make Madonna’s directorial debut a real surprise. Were we supposed to know that she had this in her? I never thought I’d be saying this, but this first feature is intriguing enough that it makes me truly interested in what Madonna will do the next time out.