Oh I seeee! I think I’m picking up Pablo Larraín’s deal now, and I think I really like it. Jackie and now Spencer too sit in this odd space between these very directly stated, here-is-the-message scripts (that somehow were not both written by Steven “Peaky Blinders” Knight, an exemplar of this mode) and Larraín’s tonally unusual, dreamy/nightmarish, memory dilated direction, so that people come out of these movies not wanting to call them biopics, really, but like, fantasias on biopic themes. “A fable based on a true tragedy,” as Spencer opens. Fable is so right! I don’t think his latest is ‘too obvious’–if this is, Jackie certainly is as well, which has dialogue just the same–because I think I experience obviousness as a function of genre. Fable tells you just what the lesson is. The mystery and enchantment of fable isn’t in the themes of the story, it’s in why the story lasts, why we keep wanting to tell it over and over.
It’s in that shimmering in-between world of repetition that Jackie and Spencer live. Larraín hires the right designers to make sure the hair and costumes are so perfectly evocative of the looks that made these women icons even before their tragedies sealed them into images, and then sets them loose to waver through an at times literal dream ballet, a subtly and occasionally overtly surreal phantasm of history. He hires actors who will commit with every fiber of their being to embody the voice and manner of this woman, and then places their almost uncanny performance into what feels more like a mood piece than a historical drama. He hires the cinematographers and color graders who can build a hazy archival photo echo of an era in every frame, and composers who will score it like an avant-garde chamber piece, all atmosphere and plinking threads of horror.
Maybe I just get amped about a movie where it has rendered the usual conversation on “what it’s about” basically a non-starter. There’s no need, we’re already told exactly what it’s about. So we get to skip that entirely and talk instead about the big F’s: Filmmaking and Feelings. My favorites!! How much did you lose it during the soup scene when Claire Mathon’s camera pulled back to reveal a string quartet playing Jonny Greenwood’s score diegetic, because I sure lost it a lot! This is what I’m talking about, this is what I love about cinéma, show me art show me choices.
And I loved Kristen Stewart in this too, so much. She’s entrancing, beautiful and sad and difficult and loving, from the lay of her shoulders to the movement of her fingers. I think I liked Spencer more than Jackie largely because it’s her. Kristen Stewart playing Princess Diana, wincing in front of paparazzi, is also something this movie is about. An aspect that this time no characters says aloud, but is there in every scene, because she is. Truly come to think of it, she might be in every scene once she first appears…a lead performance in the most classic sense.
Spencer is less camp than Jackie but that’s alright, I’ll have House of Gucci later. Or maybe it is still camp but I’m further from the British royal family than the American so didn’t pick it up as much. I know I was crying at one point because it was pop, because I found it very sad the way pop songs sometimes make me feel, hopeful and hopeless all at one bright once.