I have questions. Mainly, WHY?
“I may be unwell but I’m handsome as hell.”
This is an actual line from the miserable monstrosity that is Diana: The Musical currently streaming on Netflix. What makes the already cringeworthy line even worse is it’s featured in a scene where, in the early stages of the HIV/AIDS epidemic where misinformation and stigma reigned supreme, Princess Diana is visiting and shaking hands with AIDS patients for a photo opp, often considered her some of her most impactful work, and is followed by the lyric, “you might think me mad, but the lighting’s not bad.” Oof.
Trust me when I tell you, dear reader, the lighting is the only thing that’s not bad.
Sometimes a movie is so egregiously abhorrent, so hilariously heinous, so glaringly ghastly that watching it actually provides the viewer with some sense of joy (think movies like Showgirls, Mommie Dearest, The Room) where the content is so deliciously camp it transcends the space time continuum and becomes almost accidentally…good? Diana: The Musical is NOT one of these instances. It’s just purely, abjectly awful. It’s just so bad and what’s worse is, it doesn’t even come with the mildly redeeming quality of lending itself to some sort of obvious drinking game. Although driving you to drink this atrocity most certainly will. If you’re currently partaking in any kind of Sober October I do not recommend this for you.
The stage play, which was filmed without an audience for Netflix, opens with a musical number about Diana being underestimated. I think it’s safe to say the producers of this play vastly OVERestimated the need and overall appetite for this production. Diana is 19-years-old when we first meet her. We know this because she sings of being “19 and naive” and it’s actually helpful that we, as viewers, are hit over the head with her youth because the actress who plays Diana in no way looks even remotely close to 19. There’s a certain suspension of disbelief required to enjoy many art forms and then there’s some Dear Evan Hansen shit where you’re almost angry you’re being asked to believe this character is a teenager. Diana: The Musical falls into that category.
Still in that opening number, upon hearing from the Camilla Parker Bowles character that Prince Charles likes “clever girls” Diana sings, “I’m no intellect but maybe there’s a discoteque where the Prince could hear some Prince and we’d all get funkadelic.” It was at this point my soul left my body never to return and the streets were flooded with the tears of Gloria Steinem. Honestly, I’d have more respect for the song if the lyric was something like, “Aw shucks I’m just a dumb dumb with a head full of air, but I’m fertile and young and can provide an heir and a spare!” The production is filled with so many palm-to-forehead lyrics, you’ll risk giving yourself a concussion if you watch the whole thing.
Diana: The Musical was supposed to open on Broadway in March of 2020 before a deadly pandemic mercifully stepped in (although it’s now set to open on the Great White Way next month) and I just cannot understand to whom the producers think this speaks? Who is asking for this? I genuinely want to know and want names! Its two-hour runtime will have even the most devoted and diehard monarchists calling for abolishment. It’s nothing short of vexing that Diana: The Musical made it through all the levels of approval a production must undoubtedly undergo before coming to fruition. To paraphrase Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation, if I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more confused than I am about how and why this got made. The only way Diana: The Musical could possibly be justified is if the brilliant Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas tackle it in an episode of their hilarious podcast, How Did This Get Made? then maybe, just maybe this would have all been worthwhile.
Press and paparazzi intrusion was a running theme of Diana’s short life but it’s a real Sophie’s Choice trying to pick which is worse: the extremes to which press went in covering Diana when she was still alive, or the lyric, “better than a Guiness, better than a wank…snap a few pics, it’s money in the bank” that the “paparazzi” in Diana: The Musical sing. I will say your time is better spent drinking Guinness, wanking, or a combination thereof over watching this. Additional lowlights are the introduction of James Hewitt (with whom Diana would eventually have an affair) who rises from beneath the stage like a phoenix, shirtless atop a horse to the lyrics “Ladies if your life has gone of course, you don’t need no messy divorce, all you need is a man on a horse.” Please, someone send me to the glue factory if I ever write something so vomit-inducing. Another scene involving a confrontation between Diana and Camilla is referred to as “a thrilla in Manila but with Diana and Camilla.’ It’s basically presented as an aristocratic cat fight at which point the producers of the equally heinous movie version of Cats probably got high on catnip safe in the knowledge they had nothing to do with this litter box liner.
Diana’s untimely death is treated just as ridiculously with her car accident announced by various newsreaders before Diana, clad in all white, simply walks off stage. Huh? Charles, Camilla and Queen Elizabeth then appear to sing one last thought-provoking lyric, so rich with depth and layers, it brought a tear to my eye as I pondered its meaning as the credits rolled. Just kidding, the final lyric, “the people who will change the world are not the ones you think will change the world,” like everything before it, is drivel. It immediately reminded me of “there’s no i in Teamocil at least not where you think” from Arrested Development. Perhaps Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good Time Family Band Solution should have written the music and lyrics for Diana: The Musical. Instead it was written by Tony-winner Joe DiPietro and Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan (yes, you read that right) so now I must seek the help of both an analyst and a therapist (an analrapist, if you will) to help me forget this mess.