Grace of Monaco (Olivier Dahan, 2014)
When the closing credits of Grace of Monaco rolled, a woman in my audience let out a fairly quiet but rather prolonged fart. This somewhat echoed the critics in Cannes who shat all over the film when it premiered, but I feel a light fart is more justified. It wasn’t as crap as they had suggested, but it had a bit of a pretentious waft.Grace Kelly (played here by Nicole Kidman) was – and remains – one of classical Hollywood cinema’s biggest names. Her career was cut short when she retired from acting at age 26 following her marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco (Tim Roth). Rainier had been desperately seeking a wife so that he could produce an heir, and Grace was deemed an appropriate fit (totes romantic). Grace of Monaco spans just a short period in Grace’s life – we begin six years into her marriage when she is offered the titular role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1962). The film mostly focuses on her role in the dispute between Rainier and France’s Charles de Gaulle, concerning Monaco’s tax haven status. There is not much emphasis on her screen career (other than her own nostalgia) and nothing about her early years or premature death at age 52. I’m undecided about this aspect. While biopics can be just a bit too much sometimes (sometimes you’re just WAITING for them to hurry up and die), I didn’t feel like there was quite enough covered here. The relationship between Grace and Rainier should have been a big component of the film, but even that was left mostly unexplored. He’s a bit of a dick, then he’s a bit nicer. The end.
The film begins with a disclaimer that it is “a fictional story based on true events” which seems like a bit of a cop-out, but at least they were honest about it. Grace Kelly’s children – Prince Albert, Princess Caroline, and Princess Stéphanie – were unimpressed with the film, describing it as “needlessly glamourised and historically inaccurate”. In director Olivier Dahan’s defence, the disclaimer at the start does infer as much. Adding to the controversy, producer Harvey Weinstein purportedly threatened to drop the film from US distribution as he was unhappy with the final cut. Dahan reported that Weinstein was more interested in a commercially viable film, rather than one with artistic integrity. Nevertheless, the film was distributed and it is unclear how much of Dahan’s initial vision was kept intact.
The sets in Grace of Monaco were exquisite, and there were some decent shots, but for the most part the film was trying way too hard to be arty-farty. The worst aspect of the film was the ridiculous excess of close-up shots. One scene in particular is excruciating to watch – about five minutes of Nicole Kidman’s tear-stained face made me almost never want to see her again. Presumably Dahan thought it was a really beautiful and highly artistic choice, but it just reeked of cinema-tryhard and it didn’t work. There were further elements that were potentially interesting choices but instead ended up being annoying, including the use of shaky cam in some parts, and the deliberate prolonging of showing certain characters’ faces clearly when they first appeared on screen. The script by Arash Amel wasn’t crash hot, with the dialogue sounding wooden in parts, though it wasn’t as awful as some have suggested.
I’m not sure how I feel about Nicole Kidman. Is she unbearable or actually quite impressive? It is a fine, fine line, and I’m not just talking about the ones that she’s had injected with Botox. She put in an admirable job here, but her accent was poor and she was way too old for the part (46 playing 33). A look at the list of rumoured names who were also considered for the role of Grace makes one wonder what could have been – Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Rosamund Pike, among others. What potential! I mean, EMILY BLUNT. GODDESS. What were you THINKING, casting directors? For shame. Nic’s breathy/pouty schtick is starting to get old, but she mostly got away with it here. Tim Roth as Rainier was similarly acceptable, but not incredible. The film didn’t seem to be sure of whether he was a decent person or not which I found frustrating, though maybe this was just their attempt at showing the moral ambiguities of his character. I can’t decide whether Roger Ashton-Griffith’s portrayal of Hitchcock was spot on or bordering on caricaturish. Frank Langella put in a solid performance as Father Francis, and Parker Posey was fun to watch as Madge. Milo Ventimiglia provided the only eye candy in the film in a mostly nothing role. Don’t see it just for him, obviously.
Like its titular character, Grace of Monaco suffered from somewhat of an identity crisis. In referring to the disagreements with Weinstein, Dahan has stated that he might have expected as much with a Hollywood film, but that this was a French film (spoken mostly in English). Though the arty-farty cinematography and the font of the opening and closing titles might suggest something a bit more art-house, this film is very Hollywood in many ways. It is highly melodramatic, with a lavish production design and a sweeping score, finished off with Kidman’s pronounced pout and tear-streaked cheeks. This may be the result of a disturbed mash-up between commercial producer and ‘artist’, which may be ultimately unsatisfying to both parties. It had potential but its refusal to commit to one or the other left a bad smell in the air.