Thursday, November 25, 2021

ENCANTO

Voices of:  Stephanie Beatriz     John Leguizamo     Maria Cecilia Botero

Diane Guerrero     Jessica Darrow     Ravi Cabot-Conyers


             Encanto starts out being charming and a bit too much like a typical Disney movie.  It’s rather sugary and hypomanic.  Many of the words in the rap singing will go over many people’s heads, but the viewer easily gets the impression that the household is a most happy place, and that the Madrigal family’s powers to do good for the community make them beloved.  Abuela (Botero) is especially proud of what she established after she lost her husband.

            But there are some sad notes—young Mirabel (Beatriz) is the only one who has never received her “door” unlocking a special power as everyone else has.  One of them can lift remarkable loads, one can make flowers grow, one has healing powers, for instance, but Mirabel is not known for any special gift, even though she is told over and over that she herself is special.  She is sharp enough to sense that people are covering up something.

            Blessed with a big heart and always wanting to help, Mirabel is also rambunctious in her efforts, and may leave destruction in her wake, which is sad because her aim is always to help and make her family proud of her.  Family members identify her with an uncle named Bruno (Leguizamo)—whose name is not to be mentioned.  As one song says, “We don’t talk about Bruno, no no no!”  

            And this is key to one of the messages of the movie—not talking about things is often an indication of their importance.  When Mirabel chases after Bruno—who is said to have moved away from town—she is told not to look for him.  But cousin Luisa (Darrow) has let it slip that Mirabel should go to Bruno’s Tower to find answers to her questions after certain powers seem to be slipping away from some family members and Mirabel has received warnings about the magic of the house disappearing.

            It did this psychologist’s heart good when Encanto begins to reveal that family secrets often hold the key to whatever might be ailing it.  It’s at this juncture that Encanto becomes so much more engaging and more than simply an entertaining animation.  Because despite family remonstrances, Milabel forges ahead and learns valuable information that—although painful and disruptive—heals wounds that no one in the family wants to acknowledge.

            So, what for me started out as mere fluff and almost boring turned into something that caught my attention and made me smile and respect the film so much more.  Many psychological insights and moral principles tumble out in the last half of the story, which then illuminate the first half.

            Production design (Ian Gooding and Lorelay Bove) and the other crafts of animation and effects make Encanto a first-rate story of magical realism, and Lin Manuel Miranda’s stamp on production and music is apparent.  It puzzles me that the filmmakers elected not to put in subtitles for the Spanish-speaking/singing parts, unless perhaps to make the point that Americans need to learn the language, considering that Latinos will be the dominant ethnic group in the USA sometime soon.  It would actually be helpful for some of us to see subtitles for the rap portions as well, which go by so rapidly they’re not understood by many.

            Encanto is likely to appeal to general audiences who will be fascinated by the crafts, appreciate the emphasis on the value of family, and recognize some of the traits of families that cause problems or make them successful.  This movie is more than fluff.

 

Family secrets once aired can be healing and even be a salvation.

 

Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

HOUSE OF GUCCI

 Salma Hayek     Jared Leto     Adam Driver     Lady Gaga

Al Pacino     Madalina Ghenea     Jeremy Irona     Jack Huston


            This is a colorful film with a complex plot that begins light-heartedly romantic and interesting.  Mauricio Gucci (Driver) is a reserved young man without much of a social life and still living in his family home with his father Rodolfo Gucci (Irons).  Patrizia (Lady Gaga) is an ambitious, sexy woman who, when he tells her his name at a party, flirtaciously picks him up, in a way, and he is instantly attracted to her.  They seem to mesh well together; she draws him out and he offers her stability and dependability.

            After a short time, when Mauricio introduces Patrizia to his father, although the older man is charmed by her, he is suspicious as well and warns his son not to get involved.  This creates such harsh disagreement, Mauricio moves out of the home and shows up at Patrizia’s, where he is taken in and begins working at her father’s trucking company (which Patrizia affectedly refers to as “land transportation”).  

            Mauricio is modest, belying his wealthy background, and thoroughly enjoys the physical labor.  Their love continues to grow, resulting in marriage and a child.  Many events transpire after that, with the couple remaining very much in love.

            Although skirmishes had always been a part of the family’s existence, major trouble begins to brew around running the business and financial disagreements brought on partly by the introduction of Rodolfo’s brother Aldo (Pacino) in New York City, to Patrizia and her not being able—or willing—to resist getting involved in the business and pressuring her husband to take certain actions.

            What transpires is heightened intrigue and shifting loyalties and how far people in families will go when bonds weaken and their circumstances begin to change.  

             Ridley Scott directed the film based on a book by Sara Gay Forden, with screenplay by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna.  The pace goes along nicely, giving the viewer time to absorb who all the players are and mete out the twists and turns as in a good crime story.  Scott is better known for his scripts than for his direction.  And it is probably the case in this film that his reputation is borne out.  For those who are not familiar with the story, there are major surprises as all the different elements unfold, a positive of the script.  Direction, however, may be lacking in the cohesiveness of the cast in the story.  

            That being said, along with the script, the cast is one of the film’s strongest points, beginning with the two leads, Adam Driver and Lady Gaga.  Driver is on a roll this year, with three of his movies on wide-ranging subjects being released.  Here, he is his most laid back, slow to burn character until he is pushed too far.  Lady Gaga is good at playing an ambitious woman who uses her sexiness to her advantage.  Her performance may be a bit “over the top”, but I enjoyed her young enthusiasm and craftiness in the beginning.  Later on, as the plot thickens, she is showing more of her naivete, and she relies more and more on her fortune teller (Hayak—who doesn’t quite fit the role), one’s sympathy for the character (and perhaps for the house of Gucci and The House of Gucci the movie) wanes.  

            In the mix is the uncanny performance of Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci, the “idiot son, but he’s my son” son of Aldo.  Leto shows the man as one with questionable talent who is a bit of a changeling, trying to adapt himself to whatever he thinks is expected.  

            Some may think this film is more about the fashion industry, but it is actually a chronicle of an international company whose direction failed in the face of conflicts within its leadership, a family.

 

Go and see this as a film about a family business rather than about fashion.

 

Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, November 18, 2021

C'MON C'MON

 Joaquin Phoenix     Gaby Hoffmann     Scoot McNairy

Jaboukie Young-White     Molly Webster

            I can see why so many people are taken with C’mon C’mon, a tender story about a man who has never been around children is suddenly charged with taking care of his nine year-old nephew while the parents deal with the father’s mental illness.  What was supposed to be a few days turns into weeks, so the two males get to know each other quite well.

            Johnny (Phoenix) has an interesting job as a radio journalist in New York interviewing children of all types/races/nationalities about what they think about the future.  He tries this out on his nephew Jesse (Young-White), who will have none of it, even though he is a bright imaginative kid whose mother has fostered his creativity and inquiring mind.  Jesse is not keen on necessarily doing what is expected, but he is into technology and the media, so Johnny wisely engages him in recording all kinds of urban and beach sounds on the huge microphone he uses for his interviews.  

            As time goes by, Johnny’s patience is tested by the child—who might suddenly disappear from sight—and has definite opinions about what he will and won’t do.  Still, the kid is interesting, and comes up with questions about Johnny’s personal life that take him off guard and force him to express himself in ways he has never done before.  Periodically, he speaks on the phone with Jesse’s mother Viv (Hoffmann) and is able to get advice from her as well as great understanding of the trials and frustrations of taking care of children.

            Joaquin Phoenix is gifted in portraying all kinds of roles, and he fits perfectly into this one, showing his playful side, psychological vulnerabilities, and anxiety when he feels at sea.  It’s realistic the way he might show a sudden urge to quash the child while still clearly being charmed by him.  He and Young-White appear to have a real affinity for one another, just as Phoenix and Hoffmann do.  It’s easy to imagine them all in the same family.  And the arc of Johnny’s and Jesse’s loving relationship is one of the best features; it shows an initial interest that gradually blossoms into a connection between them that will be valuable for both.

            Some of my reaction to this film of writer-director Mike Mills comes from my years of experience of talking with children and parents during my professional career as a psychologist in a pediatrics department.  I loved that job, but I think because of it I do not have the same fascination with the material as would those who are less familiar with children’s minds.  I certainly do still find children enormously fascinating, but what frustrated me about the stories here is that they are all like snippets that pique my interest without much follow-up or antecedent information.  It’s a bit like having a meal of appetizers; which can be enjoyable, but is not likely to be memorable or inspiring.  Because of this, C’mon C’mon borders on the prosaic.

 

C’mon C’mon presents slices of daily life in the dynamic relationship between an emotionally detached man and his clever nephew.

 

Grade:  C                                 By Donna R. Copeland

KING RICHARD

 Will Smith     Jon Bernthal     Dylan McDermott     Aunjanue Ellis

Saniyya Sidney     Demi Singleton     Tony Goldwyn

            This is a fascinating account about how to make a champion.  Richard Williams, the father of the famous tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, knew the value of positive reinforcement, despite his tendency to be overbearing, and temperamental.  And let’s not forget the decisive role of his wife Brandi.  She knew him like a book and could read him in such a way she helped him understand himself when he otherwise couldn’t.  And she was a real force in their girls’ training.

            The gist of the story is known by most people, that the black family from Compton, California, took the tennis world by storm in the early 2,000’s when Venus began winning tournaments at an early age.  The proud father always responded to reporters and coaches when they praised him for one daughter by reminding them he had two girls who would be stars.

            As oppositional and pompous as he often was, Richard had rules he lived by and taught his children, such as “Fail to plan, plan to fail.”  Humility is another principal he at least wanted his children to retain, always remembering where they came from no matter how many prizes they won.  No matter the win, he forbade them to “brag.”  Clear from the film is that much of the success of the girls depended on his salesmanship.  He seemed not to be intimated by anyone; he successfully convinced almost (not all) all of them to at least look at his daughters’ prowess on the court.

            I am not a tennis player or big fan, but the film comes across as an authentic representation of what it takes to become a tennis star, the role a parent so inclined could play in a child’s success, and in this case the tremendous support provided by a family that not only stood together but talked through and hashed out problems that arose.   I appreciated the background information about the father that led to the fierceness and perseverance he shows in situations where he is challenged.  Valuable as well is the occasional focus on the marriage and the way the couple solves their issues.  

            Will Smith seems tailor made for the role of Richard Williams.  He embodies it so well one can imagine that aspects of Williams’ personality are ones Smith knows very well.  As Mrs. Williams, Aunjanue Ellis is an inspiration for all women who need to stand up for themselves.  Ellis shows the full dimensionality of a bright, creative, and loving woman who knows how to be a partner to a strong man, and I hope both actors will be recognized come awards season.

            The movie is entitled “King Richard” apparently because of the way Williams conducted himself in coaching and advocating for his daughters.  It seems an apt title to me.  The film does not go into the marriages and divorces of the parents or other types of conflicts in the women’s careers—which is a bit of sugar-coating perhaps—but wisely concentrates primarily on the family during the time Venus is just getting established as a pro tennis player.

 

This account of the background of two record-breaking female tennis players will keep you entertained and cognizant of the importance of family support.

 

Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, November 11, 2021

TICK, TICK...BOOM!

Andrew Garfield     Alexandra Shipp     Robin de Jesus     Vanessa Hudgens

Joshua Henry     Bradley Whitford     Jonathan Mark Sherman

 


Jonathan Larson, the creator of the hit musical “Rent” (which earned Pulitzer and Tony awards) is the subject of this film as he was writing one of its predecessors.  He is young—not yet 30—but wants to set the Broadway world on fire with his musicals.  He captures the interest of one who turned out to be his long-time mentor Stephen Sondheim (here played on note by Bradley Whitford), and one of the humorous segments of the film is Sondheim and a colleague critiquing one of Larson’s first musicals.  It’s funny because the colleague seems to want to trash it, but after Sondheim gives his opinion, the man agrees with him in a roundabout way.  (A wonderful rendition of doublespeak.)

Tick, Tick…Boom! canvasses a wide range of subjects—writer’s block, homophobia and the AIDS epidemic, the tension between art and corporate concerns, and on a more personal level the tension and pulls between professional life and human connections—all of which were highlights in Larson’s life. These subjects are the “meat” of the production.

I found the story more engaging than the music, especially in the beginning, which is frenetic and hyper in the partying mode.  At the middle point of the drama and towards the end, music and story become more inspirational.  The duet of Susan (Shipp), Larson’s neglected girlfriend and Karessa (Hudgens), one of Larson’s main characters/singers, sing about Jon’s struggle in writing the most important song in the work; it’s a stand-out, especially touching and beautiful.  I also found the songs of Larson and de Jesus at the end singing about AIDs just as beautiful and moving.

Andrew Garfield may not be the most appealing star of a musical, but his performance here proves his talent.  Shipps’ and Hudgens’ voices complement each other and express well the emotions their characters are experiencing.  The entire ensemble of musicians makes this musical vibrate.

Another strength of Tick, Tick…Boom! Is the cinematography of Alice Brooks.  She inserts a number of shots that are humorous and inspiring, such as that of Jon at his lowest encountering the “30” at the bottom of the pool (reminding him of his impending age) and swiping it into a treble clef, just what he needed for inspiration to write the most important song in his current production.  There are numerous creatively rendered shots that enhance this production 

Tick, Tick in the title refers to the ticking of time, that it is always there to remind us of the finiteness of life and relationships.  I think the film did a great job of reminding us of that and encouraging us to ponder it a bit.  And to emphasize the point, Jon’s agent tells him after the success of the Tick, Tick...Boom! workshop that his next job is to start writing his next show immediately.  No rest for the weary!

Tragically, that tick tick of the clock was a knell for Jonathan Larson.  He had an aortic aneurysm that killed him suddenly at age 35.  Our loss for sure.

 

Tick, Tick…and may there be a Boom...if you're lucky!

 

Grade:  B                                                      By Donna R. Copeland



BELFAST

 Jamie Dornan     Caitriona Balfe     Jude Hill

Ciaran Hinds     Judi Dench     Lewis McAskin


            This new film admirably directed by Kenneth Branagh is notable for its black and white screen (cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, who also filmed Locke) and poignant events going on in Belfast in 1969, the beginning of Northern Ireland’s 30-year “Troubles.”  Highlighting a typical family living in the region, the film depicts torn loyalties and dilemmas about what citizens could/should do.  

            Most of the drama centers around young Buddy (Hill) whom everyone knows and cries out to as he walks down the street.  We see much of the drama through his most expressive eyes.  His father works out of town and is gone for periodic stretches, so it is up to the wife/mother (Balfe) to hold the family together, albeit with the loving (sometimes humorous) support of grandparents played by Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench.  Who wouldn’t love those grandparents(!), particularly given that they have a warranted skeptical view of the world they live in.  

            The big dilemma posed for the family is whether to remain in Belfast where both parents’ families have lived since the parents were toddlers, where everyone in their neighborhood knows them and looks out for the kids, or whether to move to London where their standard of living would be much improved.  This was apparently a common issue for so many in Northern Ireland during that time.  The film captures well the violence in the area and threats to residents to join one side or the other.

            Branagh’s direction is expert and sure with the overall tone of the picture, the cast, and the decision to go with a black and white view, both visually and metaphorically.  Jude Hill as the young son appears to be destined for great things in his ability to express naturally so much of what Buddy was experiencing.  I liked in this movie that children are depicted in a way most of us would recognize—thoughtful but still child-like.  The actors playing the adults—Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Ciaran Hinds, and Judi Dench—are quintessential performers who will always capture our interest.  They’re entertaining to watch in whatever roles they play.

            It was also great to see a movie that is less than two hours long.  Certain events could have been extended to draw out the emotional impact (as so many filmmakers do nowadays), but I appreciated the meaningful brevity in this instance.  

 

The “Troubles” in Ireland are portrayed in a skilled rendition of what happened to individuals and families caught up in the conflict.

 

Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland

Friday, November 5, 2021

THE BETA TEST

 Jim Cummings     PJ McCabe     Virginia Newcomb


The Beta Test will appeal to those who are sure that the internet is going to be the downfall of individual lives, and I’m not sure who else.  The movie focuses on two men trying to make their Hollywood talent agency a BIG success, but it’s rather muddled in its explanation as to why that might not happen.  There are so many ways…

Jordan (Cummings), one of the partners in the agency, is engaged to be married and is working hard with PJ (McCabe) to make their company hugely successful—that is world-class—perhaps at any cost.  However, Jordan becomes distracted by an invitation to a one-time no-strings sexual encounter that he can’t resist—not a good plan for someone who is naturally suspicious and is so self-focused he doesn’t really seethose he engages with, not even his fiancĂ©, who will eventually complain about such.  

Jordan takes the invitation bait, and the rest of the story tells what effect it has on him.  He becomes testy, but this is only part of it.  In his anxiety, he mixes up real information with his fantasies about who is who and what is what.  After he confesses what he has done to his partner, PJ fills him in on how personal information is collected on the internet and how it can be used—all news to him.  It also presents a dilemma for their company, in that their tactic is DATVO (Deflect, Attack, Replace Victim with Offender).  In other words, they are willing to use underhanded techniques to win customers.

The film endeavors to keep the viewer in suspense, but Jordan’s behavior is so juvenile and risky (e.g., posing as a policeman and a federal agent), the viewer is hard pressed to maintain an interest in the story.

Other problems include the quality of acting.  Cummings and McCabe are not only writers and producers, but primary actors in the film.  This is unfortunate because the dialog and the way the two actors deliver it sounds artificial—not realistic in the least.  Not only that, but the basic premise is that an untrained individual can become a good detective.  In trying to ferret out who has betrayed him, Jordan’s emotional investment in his decisions are obviously risky to him both legally and physically.

Cummings is also the editor of the film, something else that detracts from the quality of the production.  There are so many cuts—often between scenes that have no connection—the movie becomes so disjointed it’s hard to make sense of it.

The only possible meaning I derived from Beta Test has to do with the damaging effects of guilt, how it distorts reality and how damaging it is in relationships.  Otherwise, the meaning of the film is a mystery to me.

 

This is a film that needed help in writing, directing, casting, and editing, so its existence is puzzling.

 

Grade:  F                              By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, November 4, 2021

THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN

Benedict Cumberbatch     Claire Foy     Andrea Riseborough

Adeel Akhtar     Olivia Colman     Tory Jones     Taika Waititi


Based on a true story of an exceedingly eccentric man, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is about a British man living in the late nineteenth century who made a remarkable living out of his cat pictures.  The electrical part is what he feels when he is around cats—inspiration, perhaps?—which he conceptualizes as electricity.  He does talk in the beginning about patents for electrical inventions, but when he strokes a cat and talks about electricity, he senses something of importance, which he attributes to “electricity.”  Who could have predicted that his drawings would promote the habit of having cats as pets—something not done in the 1800’s in Britain.

For most of his life, Louis lives with his overbearing sister Caroline (Riseborough), four other sisters, and his mother.  He seems to have his head in the clouds most of the time—even though he becomes the family breadwinner at age 20—but is stabilized by meeting and eventually marrying his sisters’ governess Emily (Foy).  Their eccentricities fit together well, and she has an uncommon understanding of him; however, their happiness will be short-lived, but his story goes on.  He earns enough money from his drawings, and his art becoming so popular, he is able to support his family—until he discovers a significant mistake and his own mental health deteriorates.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire form an appealing and most interesting pair in telling this story.  There is clearly chemistry coming through that I presume reflects the real couple’s attraction.  Cumberbatch is excellent in portraying a befuddled character, and Foy easily slips into a supportive, bolstering role, which is just what Wain needs to ground himself.  As Wain’s sister, Riseborough’s constant yelling in reaction to threats to her control are grating, but most likely realistic.  Much more endearing is Tory Jones’ Sir William, consistently recognizing Wain’s talent and providing him with the kind of support that not only boosted his ego, but helped him (saved him at one point) financially.

The subject is one of fascination for me, so I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Louis Wain’s life, sad as it was.  The movie is illustrated by sepia-toned cinematography that one would see at the time (Cinematographer Erik Wilson and production designer Suzie Davies in their element), which reflects old photographs and art from that period.  It’s a film for those who lean toward the quirky and artistic, who can appreciate its refreshing creativity and appreciating the foresight in director Will Sharpe’s and his co-writer Simon Stephenson’s recounting of the story of a beautiful soul, showing how genius may be compromised by the practicalities and demands of life.  

None of the reviews of the film seems to appreciate the lovely conversations between Emily and Louis in their efforts to talk about and consider his life after her death.  Those scenes are ones that—while disturbing at an unconscious level for some—provide something extraordinary in the beauty of this film—and could serve as a model for those anticipating an untimely death.

 

An account of the life of a beautiful soul, appreciated by some, reviled by others, but one with a clever eye for making drawings of cats that expressed volumes.

 

Grade:  B                          By Donna R. Copeland



ETERNALS

Gemma Chan     Richard Madden     Angelina Jolie     Salma Hayak     Kumail Nanjiani

Lia McHugh     Brian Tyree Henry     Barry Keoghan 


            In the Marvel universe jumping through time and space are de rigeur, as seen in this film, which starts from 5,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia and goes through the centuries to the present, touching on Babylon, Chicago, South Dakota, Tenochtitlan, Mumbai, Australia, the Amazon, Iraq, and spaces in between and up in space.  It will make you dizzy trying to keep track.  Not only that, one must also keep track of tricky names:  Thena (not Athena), Sirsi (not Circe), Ikaris (not Icarus), Phastos (not Hephaetus), all tied to Greek mythology.  They are clever and make you smile.

            Anyway, the story is roughly that a being called Arishem has created not only humans but also Eternals who are intended to survive anything, and… what? Deviants are sent to destroy the Eternals?!  Well, like any god-like figure, Arishem is quixotic—at least seemingly.  Through his own reasoning, he decides to foster the emergence of a Celestial transformation that could dispose of humans in the interest of furthering civilization development.  This sets up a fierce battle among the Eternals—one siding with Arishem and the others wanting to preserve humans and the earth planet.  This constitutes the rest of the story in Eternals.

In wresting with these conflicts, there are some philosophical discussions/arguments about life paradoxes to tease the mind, such as that creation always involves destruction; some have to die in order for other life to be born.  Also to be wrestled with is that even though Heresham created humans, Eternals, Deviants (which he lost control of), in the offing he plans for the emergence of the Celestials.  Life is a cycle of creation and destruction.  But some are questioning Creator Arishem’s requirement that Eternals not interfere in human conflicts because he says that conflicts and war are necessary for the development of the human world.  

The script adapted from Jack Kirby’s original comic books by Chloe Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo and Kaz Firpo is reasonably good, but goes on far too long for this type of movie.  It does meander into some of the Eternals’ lives, such as Sersi’s relationship with Ikarus and a human named Dave, Phastos’ complex relationship with Thena and his subsequent attachment to a human who will give him a family, and Druig’s going off on his own to establish a community with the Amazonians—which is always interesting, but none of these pairings are highlighted enough for us to cheer them on.

The crafts in Eternals—cinematography (Ben Davis), music (Ramin Djawadi), special and visual effects, art, and sound—are extraordinary, easily transporting the viewer into the mythological realm.  As Marvel movies go, this one seems to be one of the better ones, having some grounding in literature and wrestling with contemporary issues.  I think the upshot of it all is that any group needs to stick together as one, united against forces against it.  But—there is likely to be a sequel, so we’ll see where it goes from there.

 

Eternals are eternal, except…The twists and turns will keep you engaged, but leave you wanting more.  It’s more the crafts that will amaze you.

 

Grade:  C+                            By Donna R. Copeland




SPENCER

Kristen Stewart     Timothy Spall     Sally Hawkins     Jack Nielen     Freddy Spry

Jack Farthing     Sean Harris     Stella Gomet     Richard Sommel

 


            The film begins by noting that it is “a fable”, and that does describe it as what I take to be a diatribe against the tradition of royalty.  It is not a bio-pic about Diana;  many/most scenes are made up by writer Steven Knight and presumably Director Larrain.  Not only does Spencer portray Diana as a spoiled, pouty diva-like person, it doesn’t show royal family members in a much better light.  (They’re shown as unempathetic.)  Diana’s costumes are beautiful (one of her marks in real life), but go over the top, seemingly to show the ridiculousness of royal dress in general.  The same goes for highlighting the elegant dining—I think it’s meant to be a criticism of a lavish lifestyle.

            Setting the film in the Christmas weekend Diana is deciding to part with Prince Charles is known as a stressful time, and one can imagine a very difficult one for Diana.  It’s hard for me to believe, though, that Diana’s behavior was so off-kilter that she was hallucinating.  It’s plausible that she was suspicious of the family’s motives toward her, but I find it hard to believe that she was as paranoid as shown.  One chilly scene that is supposed to capture the mood of the family and that weekend is Christmas dinner with almost no conversation and family members eyeing one another.  I find that hard to believe as well.

            Spencer implies that Diana was obsessed with her childhood home which, incidentally, is where she was born, but she only lived there a short time.  Much is made of her attachment to a scarecrow on the property and her taking its jacket and instructing her maid to clean it.  In the end, the scarecrow is dressed in a brilliant yellow outfit that Diana is shown to have worn at one time, a caricature of a royal family’s indulgences, I assume.

            The only part of Spencer I really enjoyed is the acting, particularly that of Kristen Stewart and Sally Hawkins, Diana’s waiting maid and confidante.  Stewart, who apparently has a positive attitude toward Diana researched the woman’s life and stated that her intention was to portray her as realistically and sympathetically as she could.  She achieves that, and the viewer can easily see her as Diana.  I haven’t been able to discern exactly what she thought of the script, but I wonder what she really thought about it, given its portrayal of a narcissistic, oppositional wounded woman.  Hawkins comes across as a servant devoted to her charge, always with kind and sensible responses to Diana’s upsets.  And their conversations are the only ones that seem to have a ring of truth to them.

            I adored Pablo Larrain’s portrait of Jackie (Kennedy), but this portrait of Diana simply doesn’t ring true—not that I knew her personally, as I’m going by my reading of news reports.  It must be that Larrain’s liberal political beliefs as in No, along with perhaps those of his writer Steven Wright (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises) brought out sentiments against a privileged class, which I appreciate, and can say spoke truth to me.  But I’m at a loss to understand the presentation of Diana Spencer as such a losing kind of woman.

            In sum, it seems unfair to concoct such a picture as this one of one weekend in a well-known, complex, multi-layered person’s life.

 

A princess new to royalty and deceived by her prince is portrayed as an oppositional, resentful woman, despite her being generally known as a real, caring person.

 

Grade:  C                              By Donna R. Copeland