R for showing graphic portrayals of an eating disorder, a mental breakdown, cruelty, and language. It's a very uncomfortable movie to watch, as it was intended. It has a very A24 vibe, despite the fact that it was released by Neon if I'm not mistaken. So realize that the tone is pretty adult. R.
DIRECTOR: Pablo Larrain
It begins! I'm going to be writing about Academy Award nominees for the near future. I'm going to be overwhelmed, both happy and stressed out. So my first active watch for the Academy Awards is...um...Spencer? Okay, it looked pretty good. After all, I'm a big fan of The Crown so it would only make sense that I would really dig another story about Diana's trauma with the Royal Family. Boy, um...I wasn't right about that. This is not a good place to start.
Some behind the scenes notes: I lost Internet for the whole day yesterday. The ideas I was setting up are now gone from my memory, so we'll see how this plays out. But I do remember my biggest takeaway from this movie. I really have to believe that this movie was meant to make Diana look sympathetic. I mean, just culturally, that is what makes sense. I can't imagine someone going into the story of the Princess of Wales thinking that they are going to make her look like an absolute monster. But the scope and crux of this movie is that it is about three days in the life of Diana: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day. It's a cool concept that actively ruins the movie. I mean, I want to toss a lot on this on Kristen Stewart (Remind me to get back to this later.) But there's something so screwed up about making this movie about three consecutive days. Because what happens --and this is important --is that this becomes a movie about mental illness and not the person.
98% of this movie is Kristen Stewart with her eyes glassy, crying about how miserable her life is. Now, there's me, who has watched The Crown. There's me, who remembers the life of Princess Diana and all of the good she accomplished in the world. The story of Princess Diana, like Britney to many, is the story of how celebrity and toxicity martyred a woman who was already dealing with mental illness. But to tell that story, we needed something to juxtapose against the spiral. There wasn't that moment of Diana in the sun. We have these snippets of Diana with her children, putting on a brave face for the sake of her family, but even that was pretty darned depressing. Diana's life was tragic because she was so bright and so energetic before she was brought down by the Royal Family.
As part of that, there are moments of passive aggressiveness towards Diana on behalf of the Royal Family, especially Charles. But her reactions seem completely overblown compared to the slights that go her way. Now, those in the know understand that Diana has already been injured time and time again by this point in the timeline. We know that she deserves to have her breakdown because everything she does is under scrutiny. But this is a film with specific rules. What the movie presents to us is what the audience is supposed to take away. Because Diana enters moment one, almost completely unhinged, the reactions of the Royal Family seem almost appropriate. Diana doesn't come across as someone who has just done the Road to Calvary. She comes across as a spoiled brat with an eating disorder who wants the attention of the most powerful people in Europe. She almost seems spiteful of someone having more attention than her. Anytime someone gives her what appears to be a reasonable request, she breaks down into tears and throws a huge fit. We know these requests aren't minor if you look at history, but the movie doesn't stress that.
I did like the Anne Boleyn stuff though. It's absolutely absurd that Diana would simply find a book on Anne Boleyn sitting in her chambers, considering that the story of Anne Boleyn is a reminder about the toxicity of the monarchy. But as a historical embellishment, it is super fun. Having Anne Boleyn insert herself to these scenarios kind of makes Princess Diana a Willy Loman type character. She hovers above the events like a specter, tainting the events of the story. Because she is constantly there, there are these cool moments of foreshadowing, knowing that the monarchy will drive Diana to her death; if not directly, then remotely. Also, it just looks so cool. Because most people can't complain about the look of Spencer. But for me, most of the design choices are either fine or misses. I don't know if the pearl necklace being eaten and gagged on during dinner is as effective as the movie wants it to be. But Anne Boleyn simply appearing places worked practically every time. It's really good and I applaud that kind of stuff.
What I ultimately took away from Spencer was that this was an acting vehicle for Kristen Stewart to get an Academy Award, an award she very well may get for this movie despite not really showing range. It's very similar to what I saw with Renee Zellweger and Judy. Both movies are deeply flawed where the lead actress gets to emote the heck out of that part. There are no small moments in the film. Everything is done in a state of heightened emotion and that doesn't necessarily make for good storytelling so much as showing off how intense an actress can get. I'm sorry, but I really didn't care for this movie because it was just crying for two hours. Diana was more than glassy eyes and shouting at people about injustices. There needed to be levels and we never got those levels.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.