So you thought you knew Kristen Stewart?

Despite criticism, Stewart shines as Princess Diana in “Spencer”

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EF NEON

Amidst criticism, Stewart shines in “Spencer”

Ashley Mata, Staff Writer

On Jan. 30, I had the pleasure of attending a Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) screening of “Spencer,” as well as a follow-up Q&A with Kristen Stewart. 

The movie, shot on film and directed by Palo Larraín, follows Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) through her unfiltered life away from the cameras. Diana deals with mental health struggles, an eating disorder, isolation and the suffocating public glare, but she stays grounded through her relationship with her children. The Los Angeles Times accurately called the film a “portrait of a woman under siege.”

While fans eagerly anticipated Stewart’s adaptation of the ever-beloved Princess Diana, “Spencer”  has fallen short of expectations in terms of its reception. The film has a respectable 83% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but only a 52% audience score.

Some have criticized “Spencer” for taking historical liberties. Mic LaSalle from the San Francisco Chronicle called it “a disservice to Princess Diana.” However, most critics agree that Stewart’s performance is beautiful and poignant.

The Los Angeles Times also praises Stewart for how she “has long confounded our notions of the ordinary and the extraordinary, and her brilliantly prismatic performance is both a natural extension of her image and a nervy departure from it.” Stewart has historically played characters that range from edgy to quietly anxious. Here, Stewart epitomizes warmth and vulnerability while simultaneously expanding on her typical nervous composure. 

Yet, the most significant commentary on the film comes from Stewart herself. After the credits rolled in the Riviera Theatre, Stewart walked in with an incredibly cool and humble posture. The audience stood with applause. I would soon understand the impressively stark dichotomy between Stewart’s actual demeanor and that of her character. 

Stewart explained how the film was intended to be more original and poetic than a straightforward biopic. “We touch nothing that anyone has seen before, but we touch everything that we know about her,” she said. In the same way, Stewart recognizes both her closeness to and distance from Diana: “The accent is totally different … but we had to meet each other halfway.”

Just by listening to Stewart, I could see her commitment to honoring the late princess. Diana “was muzzled … she was never allowed to be a whole person, but yet she was expected to function as one,” Stewart said.

To many, Stewart is known for her distinct quirks and roles in “Twilight” and “Charlie’s Angels,” as well as her “Snow White and the Huntsman” scandal. However, “Spencer” displays Stewart’s full potential, giving credit where it’s due. 

Stewart was honest in reflecting on her film career: “It’s so much better to, like, crash and burn, and I’ve done it and I will do it again.” Stewart acknowledged that some of her past films have received poor reviews, but she also provided a wise observation: “if you start being so precious on stuff that you make, you’ll never make anything daring or cool.”

As I walked out of the Riviera Theatre, I overheard older audience members with stronger memories of Princess Diana say, “Well, it was different” — and parts of the film were — but if you leave your preconceived notions of Stewart and of Princess Diana at the door and enter the theater ready to have your perspective expanded, you’ll be greatly rewarded.  

Stewart herself grew from playing Diana: “She made me feel great, and I still have that.”

To see award-winning films and performances, visit sbiffriviera.com and stay up-to-date on the 37th annual SBIFF, which will be held from Mar. 2-12. 

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