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Diana the Movie -- Not As Awful As You've Heard, But It Could Have Been Better -- (Memo to All Actors -- Try To Avoid Portraying Fabled Icons!)

11/04/2013 11:05 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

"You know, Hillary Clinton gives of herself. Princess Diana gives of herself. But they are not saints," said actor Edward James Olmos.

Well, during no point in Hillary Clinton's lifetime has she ever been considered a saint. Princess Diana, however, even before her much-publicized charity endeavors, was considered some sort of other-worldly saint-like celebrity phenomenon. She was famous for being famous on the grandest scale. (So powerful was her impact before she married Prince Charles many people referred to her as "Lady Di" forever.) She initially tapped into the beautiful fairy-tale of a "commoner" being lifted to royalty by a (reasonably) attractive prince. Although Diana wasn't really a"commoner" at all. Just very young, and totally unsuited for The Life.

Later, as her unhappiness and neurosis became known--often through her own clever self-promotion -- she was the first truly modern star of the obsessively searching "me" generation. Theatrically staged suicide attempts...cutting... bulimia...anorexia...an increasingly unhappy marriage, the "other woman" tormenting her -- or so she was convinced. She wept in public, she retreated from the public -- though not for long. Diana was always on the road to self-discovery, and seemed to be finding it in her last three years.

• Last Friday, director Oliver Hirschbiegel's controversial feature film Diana opened in the U.S. It was slaughtered in Britain, with calls for the heads of Oliver and star Naomi Watts -- lese-majeste -- to the Tower! (By now we'll know what America's reviewers think.)

The movie premiered at the SVA Theater in Manhattan, hosted by The Cinema Society. It does not deserve what British critics gave it. (The director himself remarked before the screening, "Forget everything you might have heard!")

Diana is not the tale of Diana Spencer. Those all-encompassing efforts almost never work. This is just a slice in time, her final several years. Although Diana is head and shoulders above, say, the execrable My Week With Marilyn, it is still, somehow, frustratingly hollow. It tells the love story between Diana and heart surgeon Dr. Hasnat Khan, which they carried on in secret. She was initially attracted to Hasnat because of his apparent disinterest. He was, and remains a very private man. (He married after Diana's death. To a woman of whom his Pakistani family approved.)

This look at the Diana/Hasnat affair is quite romantic -- the lovers doomed by her fame and his revulsion of it. However, it soft-pedals Diana's wildly contradictory nature. She was the classic girl with the curl. When she was good she was very very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid!

• Naomi Watts, an excellent actress, does her best to convey Diana In Love. She is perhaps, feature by feature "prettier" than the real Diana. But not nearly as striking or statuesque. For those who can recall, the late Princess eventually became truly regal. Watts tries. To play an icon is an almost impossible task. I give Miss Watts a genuine salute.

But the screenplay gives her no help revealing that other side of Diana, the maddening young woman who could cut friends off at the knees, never forgive, never forget. Even when Watts/Diana is shown "stalking" Hasnat, it's charming. Undoubtedly, it sometimes was. Diana was a notorious stalker of her lovers, and often in cahoots for one reason or another with various members of the paparazzi. (In the movie, she is shown cooperating only to make Hasnat jealous.) Watts aptly captures Diana's vulnerability, but little of her steely resolve. Not to mention Diana's fabled sex-appeal, which was a combo of her own attractions and her status and the world's most famous woman.

Naveen Andrews is excellent as the frustrated heart surgeon. He is much handsomer than the real Hasnat, even with the weight he gained for the role. (He looked slimmer and super-sexy at the after-party.)

There is just something shallow about the film, not quite "there." It floats. It is not disrespectful nor gratuitous. We are blessedly spared any re-enactment of the terrible crash that took Diana's life and that of her casual friend, Dodi Fayed. And moments ring true. During an argument with Hasnat, the doctor sneers, "Why must you always be so dramatic?" Diana screams, "Because everything in my life has been dramatic!"

• This movie might satisfy Americans more than it did the Brits. One problem in anybody being satisfied, is that for all Diana's fame during her lifetime, and her good works, she was ephemeral. She left no movies or TV shows or artwork behind. Millions of photos and her two beautiful sons, but she is slowly fading from history. (Some people at the screening were totally unaware of Hasnat; they thought it was a movie about her life, her death and/or Dodi.)

If you can separate yourself from your memories -- dim or sharp -- of the princess, Diana is a tepidly charming tale of two people who can't adjust to the other one's life. It could be anybody's story, except that it is the story of the most famous woman on earth and a brilliant, esteemed heart surgeon.

• The party after at The Skylark quickly turned into one of those super-crush events at which clothes don't need to be removed for possible pregnancies to occur.

Among the throng -- Linda Wells (her Allure magazine co-hosted the event)...Valentino...Gloria Steinem...Tony Danza...Ingrid Sischy...Paul Haggis...Jessica Seinfeld...Cosmo's Sergio Kletnoy..and Scott Gorenstein of Liza Minnelli PR fame. (Scott is a dyed-in-the-wool Diana-phile. He loved the movie. We won't tell Liza!)

The Skylark is a maze of industrial passageways, and tricky winding staircases. However, once you get to the very top, it has a dazzling view of mid-town NYC. Never has the Empire State Building looked so touchable. (Dozens of guests wandered up and took hundreds of photos and "selfies" standing "near" the Empire State.)

But the smash success of the evening were the incredible beef sliders with bacon and cheddar cheese. So delicious that most everybody left the party holding onto several for later.

One patron said, indicating a server: "If we rush him, we can grab the platter and take it home for dinner!"