Spencer or Twirling with No Substance

Kristen Stewart as Diana Spencer

Halfway through Spencer I began to question whether I have ever liked Pablo Larrain as a filmmaker. Earlier this year his adaptation of Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story was unwatchable. I did not care for The Club (2015). But I had to remind myself that I liked No (2012), Jackie (2016) and Neruda (2016). Maybe this new one will end up in the like column as well. Alas it did not.

Spencer is supposedly the story of the weekend country sojourn in which Princess Diana of Wales, née Spencer (Kristen Stewart), decided to divorce Prince Charles (Jack Farthing). It’s told like a ghost story; a woman in peril in a big house, surrounded by dubious people, some might be in her corner, others want to sabotage her. It’s Diana as Rebecca (1940). And it’s as alienating as much of Larrain’s work. Though done with top notch craft and an aesthetic recognizable to most cinephiles.

Larrain and screenwriter Steven Knight have a good premise. They are trying to tell a story of finding the fortitude to break away from a life that’s suffocating while being completely isolated. However they run out of narrative threads quickly and spend the rest of the movie repeating themselves. Diana, isolated with no one to trust. The servants in the big house (Timothy Spall, Sean Harris and Sally Hawkins among them) might be spying on her for the royal family. Or are they her allies? Repeat over and over again. Then so many scenes of Diana running. Along hallways, in the meadows. And so much twirling. So much twirling. So much of it that it bears repeating. The movie’s true title should’ve been “Twirling With No Substance.” Who knew it would be Larrain who would inherit the mantle from Terence Malick in this most dubious of categories.

There is nothing about what Knight wrote or what Stewart plays that is specifically about Diana. The details are vague. This could be about any anonymous rich white lady trapped in a cult. One who has access to fancy clothes, castles, maids and personal cooks. Stewart plays her like a haunted woman trapped and she’s effective. However she neither looks nor sounds like Diana. Inhabitation is not necessary with biopics, sometimes just a nod to the real person is enough. See Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland. But there’s not even a nod here. If this wasn’t called ‘Spencer” we wouldn’t be talking about awards. Nor would a swath of the potential audience be interested. So maybe it’s a calculated move. Let’s make a movie about a haunted woman trying to escape from a cult. Any woman, no need to be specific nor add any recognizable details. But still call it Spencer. Boo! Awards. Buzz. Magazine covers. Box office though might not materialize if enough people catch on to what it really is. 

Impersonation aside, Stewart is no more than fine. She plays this woman as very frightened, as if she’s in a gothic horror film. Whispery breathy voice, quizzical look. It fits the framework Larrain put her in. However the critical response to this performance is baffling. Even within Stewart’s limited oeuvre it doesn’t stand out. She’s been much more affecting with Olivier Assayas in Clouds of Sils Maria (2015) and Personal Shopper (2017).


All of this would have been forgotten if Spencer actually had a story to tell. This is a bunch of scenes shot well, with actors repeating the same notes over and over in different but limited locations. There is nothing to see here.

Ocean’s 8 and the Peak of Cate Blanchett’s Celebrity

This week Murtada welcomes Kate Halliwell, writer for The Ringer and host of the  Tea Time podcast to discuss Ocean’s 8 and the period post Carol (2015) which they both consider to be Blanchett’s peak celebrity and pop culture power.

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Follow along the film is streaming  on HBO Max.

What is the film about?

From imdb: Debbie Ocean gathers an all-female crew to attempt an impossible heist at New York City’s yearly Met Gala.

What year did it come out?

2018

Who does Cate play?

 Lou Miller, second in command to Debbie Miller. The Pitt to Bullock’s Clooney. Butch femme, loves motorcycles and wears a mean jumpsuit and leather pants.

How is Cate introduced? 

6 minutes in tampering with the vodka while Judge Judy plays in the background. 

 Box Office: Domestic = $140,218,711 Int’l = $ 157,500,000

Metacritic : 61 RT: 69

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Topics discussed:

1- Ocean’s 8

  • BDE – was that created just to describe Cate’s energy in this film?
  • The paparazzi photos during shooting – Cate and Rihanna in Central Park, that cute dog dancing – were better than the movie!
  • Hustlers is the movie we hoped Ocean’s 8 would be
  • Who’s the mvp : Anne Hathaway or Cate’s wardrobe? 

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Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett in Ocean’s 8

  • Cate’s wardrobe; props to the costume designer Sarah Edwards for getting it right and perhaps reflecting an edgier more downtown side of Cate’s IRL aesthetic.
  • The chemistry between Cate and Sandra. 
  • What scenes did we like? What seemed off? 

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Blanchett, Awkwafina, Paulson, Hathaway, Bullock, Kaling, Bonham Carter and Rihanna at the film’s New York premiere June 2018

2- Cate’s post Carol’s celebrity power

  • The memes, the devotion, the hive, the conspiracy theories… it’s a movement.
  • Harold they’re lesbians!
  • Cate as a fashion icon, how she understands the red carpet is performance why she gets many abuzz when she glides down a carpet or releases a magazine photo shoot.
  • What is the peak pop culture moment for Cate post 2015?

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Kristen Stewart eyeballing Cate Blanchett at the Jury photo call at the Cannes Film Festival May 2018

1) the Carol press tour late 2015 into 2016

2) Presiding over the Jury at Cannes May 2018

3) The Ocean’s 8 press tour (that Today Show interview with Sarah Paulson, the many suits she wore to all the press events) May-June 2018

4) Lip-synching at a drag show in NYC February 2017 to Dusty Springfield’s You Don’t Own Me

5) Even fellow celebrities are stans; from Gillian Anderson to Val Kilmer

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