Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Movie with Abe: Diana

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Released November 1, 2013

There’s been a tendency in biopics recently to pick a very small portion of a public figure’s life and use it as the basis for a film that bears a title with that person’s name. “Lincoln” was about one vote, and “Hitchcock” was about making just one movie. This story of a few years of the world-famous Princess Diana’s life parallels the events portrayed in a similarly snapshot-centric film, “The Queen,” but shows them from the perspective of Diana, who lived her life in front of the press and struggled to find the peace and happiness she always wanted.

“Diana” is as much about its male lead as it is its female lead. Early on, Diana (Naomi Watts) meets heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews) and immediately falls in love with the dashing Pakistani doctor. The reason for the attraction is not clear – Watts and Andrews’ lack of chemistry certainly doesn’t explain it – and Diana explains later that she loved that he didn’t treat her as if she was anyone special. The couple is soon plagued by problems, including Diana’s divorce, Hasnat’s desire to stay out of the spotlight, and his mother’s disapproval of her. Simply put, this is a love story, not a biography.

What “Diana” lacks more than anything is context. There is very little description provided for who Diana was and the circumstances that led to her divorce. This reviewer was just nine years old when Diana was killed in a car crash, an event the film doesn’t even bother to address, presuming that its audience knows what happened. None of Diana’s interactions with the royal family are shown, which makes it hard to understand a large portion of her life. As a film, it feels incomplete, and as a piece of historical cinema, it comes up very short.

Watts is an extremely talented actress who has delivered exceptional performances in films like “Mulholland Drive” and “21 Grams.” This role doesn’t demand as much from her, and certainly less than her physically drenching Oscar-nominated part in “The Impossible” last year, and she responds adequately, crafting a half-compelling lead character who is sometimes sympathetic. Andrews was far more adept at playing a conflicted torturer on “Lost,” and romantic drama doesn’t suit him as well. At one point in the film, Diana explains that many thought of her as a “non-starter,” and that’s an excellent way to describe this film.


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