Since the acclaim of ‘Spencer’ at the Venice film festival in September 2021, director Pablo Larraín and his muse of the moment, Kristen Stewart, have gained the spotlight of the international industry with the film that promised to be one of the great favorites at the 2022 Oscars. Everything was going well for Stewart, she has been in the spotlight ever since and was clearly the favorite for this year’s Best Actress race.
However, this week, there were twists and turns that shook the campaign of the actress and the film for the Oscars, and a lot of speculation started to surface on the internet, so we decided to clarify the points to better understand about the decline of Kristen Stewart‘s performance that is so loved by critics and fans.
It all starts on Sunday (9), where Kristen Stewart lost the Golden Globe for Best Actress to Nicole Kidman for ‘Being the Ricardos‘.
Kidman‘s victory is surprising, the actress didn’t look like a favorite. In betting, Stewart was at the top and indicated favoritism by most HFPA members and punters, which looked at least comfortable for his first win at the awards. However, the actress ended up losing to Kidman who collects 17 nominations and 6 Golden Globe wins, being one of the great darlings of the HFPA, even though her role as Lucille Ball has been heavily criticized by the public and the critics, starting from her casting until the film’s release to critics.
The first screening of Being The Ricardos to critics was apparently positive, until in its embargo it ended up surprising with an average reception on Metacritic and acceptable on Rotten Tomatoes. Recently, a critic ended up dropping that Amazon Studios was pressuring critics to erase the negative reactions, which could justify the surprise in its reception. Many people may question Kidman‘s victory, but it’s undeniable that she looks good on paper. Her portrayal of Lucille Ball is the best element of the film which is easily one of Aaron Sorkin‘s most underwhelming scripts, which also directs it. The truth is that the public tends to underestimate Kidman‘s strength in the industry, which is a mistake. We are talking about an actress who has been appearing in this race for years, she has enough respect to win her 2nd Oscar for ‘Best Actress‘ in 2022. And if it depends on the actress, the statuette is already in her hands. The movie’s campaign is coming as a big surprise as Amazon has failed with other projects.
“Spencer is not a conventional biography.”
Since we’re talking about Kristen Stewart and Nicole Kidman, it’s worth noting that two are in two biographies, however, Kidman’s biography is more conventional than Stewart‘s, which will obviously have a direct influence on her reception in the industry. ‘Being the Ricardos‘ has a more common structure when documenting Lucille Ball‘s story, its resourcefulness is more linear and shows the couple’s development over the years and their TV projects. That’s what Hollywood usually expects from a biopic.
The truth is that this is a year of biopics, we have Lady Gaga (‘House of Gucci’), Jessica Chastain (‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’), Jennifer Hudson (‘Respect’), Andrew Garfield (‘tick, tick…BOOM!’) and several other films about real figures. All of them have some linearity in their structure and commitment to real events, while Spencer‘s director Pablo Larraín never tired of repeating that his film is a fable about Princess Diana, that is, based on imaginations about what the real character could be living at that moment, based on her tragic history.
The film is a beautiful and strange tribute to Diana and portrays a princess in trouble, facing family friction, eating disorder and the imprisonment of her own freedom during the royal family’s Christmas dinner in 1991. During this dinner, Diana decides to divorce her. Charles and “escape” with their children, which is obviously a fictional fact. And other unreal facts happen in the film, making ‘Spencer‘ a true biographical fable that uses fanciful props to express Diana‘s sensations and feelings. Larraín does not succeed in dosing the extremity of the script, and makes the film awkward and uncomfortable. It’s clearly an art film, it doesn’t look like the type that wins recognition or industry awards, even more so when it tackles a recent and still troubled historical figure like Diana.
Why Diana’s figure is problematic?
Before Kristen Stewart, Princess Diana was played in the cinema by Naomi Watts who was widely criticized in ‘Diana (2013)‘ being called ‘caricature’ and respectively the film called ‘slapstick’.
Other projects with the princess came to be carried out, but on television, such as the series ‘The Crown‘, which despite being produced by the UK, was more embraced by the American industry than the British, which rejects the series and does not even recognize it at all years at BAFTA, for example. Addressing historical figures, even more so from the British royal family, is a thorn in the side of any filmmaker. There is a huge risk of rejection by the industry, even more so when the project is messing with the image of people who have died.
Diana, who was known as the people’s princess, had her image painted around a perfect, passionate person, and that’s how she is immortalized in history. As we see in the film, the media persecution of Diana is something that clearly shook her psychologically and physically, even causing her death. And so, we can observe the hypocrisy of the British industry that only left the princess alone when she passed away. Her image, which was misrepresented and persecuted by vehicles, has become untouchable and respectable, something the industry does not want to be discussed again, after all, they are also to blame for much of what happened to Diana. Unlike Watts, Kristen Stewart received a standing ovation from critics in the United States and United Kingdom. However, do you think the industry is prepared to see Diana suffering and ‘losing her mind’ as in ‘Spencer‘? The answer is clearly no.
The reception of “Spencer” with the public wasn’t good.
With a budget of $18 million, ‘Spencer‘ grossed just $14.9 million worldwide. Not that we were charging a box office hit for an independent film, but given the weight of Diana‘s name and also the appeal of the film having a similar theme to the “The Crown” series, the box office could have been more significant. What’s more, the film had a mixed reception on Rotten Tomatoes, having only 52% audience approval (based on around 500 reviews), which indicates that the low box office numbers stem from poor word of mouth by the public. It is worth mentioning that the taste of most industry voters, especially the SAG, aligns with the taste of the general public.
Kristen wasn’t nominated for the SAG… it’s homophobia?
Kristen Stewart was favorite to win the SAG even when we didn’t have the reveal of the nominees, thanks to the massive campaign that the actress did in partnership with the production company NEON for months, aiming to gain recognition from the Actors Guild. The SAG is one of the most important awards of the awards season, and through it, films manage to gain traction and gain support from the industry to reach the Oscars, and no other way, Stewart being out of the SAG nominations caused her to lose all her chances of winning the Oscar. With much hype surrounding Kristen Stewart‘s ‘snub’ on social media, some SAG voters spoke out about the alleged boycott of the actress. Some are stunned by the actress being snubbed and others supporting SAG, claiming they didn’t like the actress performance as Diana.
San Francisco Chronicle critic Mick LaSalle pointed out that critics found the performance poor. Jeff Beck, one of the SAG voters, expressed himself in the tweet supporting the SAG voters for not recognizing the actress. Other SAG voters also spoke out, the critic Jennele Riley spoke out in favor of Kristen Stewart.
“Not to be hyperbolic, but it’s difficult to remember an omission as shocking as that of Stewart in the history of the SAG Awards. Since ‘Spencer’ premiered at the Venice Film Festival (maybe even before), the actor has been pegged as the frontrunner for her turn as Princess Diana. Not only did her stunning turn silence any doubters, but there was a strong perception that Stewart was overdue for a nomination, having consistently turned in great work for years. Everything seemed to be on track: Stewart was charming on the circuit and racking up nominations and awards on a regular basis. It’s hard to say what happened — maybe enough voters didn’t see the film? Maybe everyone assumed she was safe and wanted to spread the love with their votes? We’ll never know.”
Published by Jenelle Riley in an article for Variety.
The snub became even more controversial when, according to a journalist, he hinted that Stewart was boycotted by the SAG for being a publicly declared bisexual woman:
Jason didn’t say anything more on Twitter after these statements, even though he was pressed with several questions from Stewart‘s fans asking for more information about what had happened.
However, this is doubtful. Of course the SAG is made up of members from different areas of entertainment, not just actors, however there are members who are LGBTQ+ and there are also nominees and winners who are also part of the community. Why would there be a direct boycott of Kristen Stewart for something like that? Even more so when we have the African American actress Ariana DeBose, who is openly lesbian, being nominated for ‘West Side Story‘, for example, which managed to consolidate her favoritism in the category of Best Supporting Actress.
Several reasons could have detracted from Stewart‘s nomination, but the most likely is the reception of ‘Spencer‘ in the industry, which was clearly divisive with the members, particularly the older ones who tend to reject films like Spencer, the ones considered art house.
An example of this is the actor Ethan Hawke, who garnered critical favor in 2018 with Paul Schrader‘s film ‘First Reformed‘. The actor who won 29 critical associations for his portrayal, was only recognized at the Critics Choice Awards, which is also a critical association (Broadcast Film Critics Association).
Hawke‘s performance is not biographical, but it has nuances similar to Stewart‘s Diana, and this type of interpretation is unlikely to please the industry. It is curious to point out that Kristen Stewart took even more risks of boycott than Hawke for the weight that Diana‘s figure carries. As has already been said, Stewart is playing a historical and untouchable figure of the British royal family in a film that is sold by the media as a biopic, but it is a clearly artistic film with fantasy elements of psychological horror, not quite a conventional biography. And it is far from being.
It’s not today that ‘Spencer‘ has been a divisive film for the industry, Vanity Fair already published an article in September 2021 about its showing at the Telluride film festival noting that the film had a lukewarm reception with the public.
“I must say that I detected a sense of anticlimax when our showing of Spencer ended. The applause was lukewarm, the energy contained. I wonder if this movie is destined to be adored by those predisposed to love it but rejected, or maybe just ignored by everyone else. Neon might have to be a little more aggressive in their campaign than originally planned. That’s my guess, anyway (…)”
Vanity Fair published another article on October 22, 2021, talking about Spencer‘s chances in the Best Picture race at the Oscars and NEON‘s campaign plans.
“Pablo Larraín’s Spencer, which we both know hasn’t worked out well for a good part of the industry, is a critical darling and has a lot of passion behind it. Neon is releasing the film on November 5th, kicking off Kristen Stewart’s best actress campaign – regardless of how the film fares overall, she’s a category favorite right now – and will look to build steady support for the film in other categories, mainly costumes and script.”
Consequently, Vanity Fair ended up hitting the film’s reception with the industry, which ended up not even getting traction on Oscar precursors and on the screenplay and Best Picture longlist at the BAFTAs. At the Golden Globes, Spencer only got one nomination. At the Critics Choice Awards it received only 2 nominations, while ‘Jackie‘ from the same director got 6 nominations in 2017. At the Oscars, the film was left out of the shortlist of one of the categories it was favorite: Best Hair and Makeup.
With the clear rejection of Larraín‘s film already visible before the SAG nominations, it’s impossible to attest that ‘Spencer‘ is an industry favorite, which ended up detracting from Kristen Stewart‘s glorious performance. Critical support isn’t enough in this case, as critics don’t vote for industry awards (SAG, Oscar, BAFTA etc.), which clarifies the fact that Stewart‘s favoritism among critics has no bearing on his SAG recognition. Of the five Screen Actors Guild nominated performances, with the exception of Olivia Colman (‘The Lost Daughter’), four of them are biographical: Lady Gaga (‘House of Gucci’), Jessica Chastain (‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’), Jennifer Hudson (‘Respect’) and Nicole Kidman (‘Being the Ricardos’). As mentioned earlier, the four performances are biopics with some sort of conventionality, unlike ‘Spencer‘.
Another film by Pablo Larraín that escaped this biographical structure was ‘Jackie (2016)‘ with Natalie Portman. The film was well-received, but it was also quite divisive among industry insiders. Like Kristen Stewart, Portman was a critical favorite, winning a large chunk of critical associations. However, she lost the Volpi Cup for Best Actress to Emma Stone with ‘La La Land‘, trifectas (LAFCA , NYFCC and NSFC) to Isabelle Huppert and lost all the television awards to Stone and Huppert, winning only the Critics Choice Awards. Everything points to this being the fate of Kristen, who lost the Volpi, LAFCA and NSFC to Penélope Cruz (‘Parallel Mothers’) and the NYFCC to Lady Gaga (‘House of Gucci’).
Unlike ‘Spencer‘, Jackie does not have elements of fantasy, but it has a coldness that is widely criticized and a script that is also flawed. The fact is, Steven Knight‘s script clearly doesn’t help Spencer. The text has a need to make Diana reaffirm herself as a victim of history, which is tiring, as well as being exaggerated to the point of having the princess talking to her deceased father’s coat and having the audacity to have Diana mutilate herself with pliers to discount . the frustration of being trapped in her room. Pablo Larraín’s Diana is so intense that the film’s fanciful exaggerations make the fact that the princess run away with her children the most ‘normal’ fact of the entire film. Which clearly must have upset the industry.
And yes, being the ‘Twilight’ actress may have hurt her…
It may seem absurd, but Kristen Stewart‘s filmography may indeed have harmed her. There is a bizarre prejudice with artists who have made franchises at the box office, and this year another actor who was snubbed of the SAG was the actor Jamie Dornan in the category of Best Supporting Actor with ‘Belfast‘.
Dornan was part of the ‘50 Shades of Gray‘ franchise, just as Stewart was part of the ‘Twilight‘ franchise. It’s curious to note, but many of the actors in these successful franchises never end up being recognized in SAG. For example, the Harry Potter franchise that none of the leading actors like Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson or Rupert Grint have gotten award nominations. From Twilight, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson still seek recognition in the industry and even if they are doing great projects, they are hardly recognized by industry awards.
We have the example of Stewart who is a César winner for ‘Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)‘, was recognized by the NYFCC, was part of the cast of ‘Still Alice (2014)‘ having a Supporting Actress campaign, and even so it did not obtain recognition of the industry.
The truth is that many actors are harmed by their successful franchises, which end up being frowned upon by the industry and suffer from blemishes for the rest of their careers. And while Kristen is far from winning an Oscar with Spencer, it’s a victory to see the actress go as far as one of the possible Oscar nominees for Best Actress, while several other actresses like Emma Watson and Shailene Woodley may never come close to getting an award nomination. We can only hope that Stewart is recognized with an Oscar nomination, because yes, she deserves it.