Grace of Monaco
Directed by Olivier Dahan. Starring Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Milo Ventimiglia, Parker Posey, Paz Vega, Frank Langella, Derek Jacobi, Geraldine Somerville, Robert Lindsay, Nicholas Farrell, Olivier Rabourdin, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Jeanne Balibar, André Penvern. Written by Arash Amel.
Grace of Monaco – an apparent biopic about actress Grace Kelly, who left Hollywood for good in the prime of her career when she married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956 – has become notorious for its behind-the-scenes controversy. Originally scheduled for a late 2013 release, the film was pushed back to 2104, moving it out of awards season (never a good sign).
The reason? A battle over the final cut of the film between French director Olivier Dahan and producer Harvey Weinstein. Dahan reportedly called Weinstein’s cut of the film “a piece of shit,” and the version that opened Cannes last month and is now hitting European cinemas is apparently the director’s cut (the film currently has no US release date.)
If that’s the case, it’s an unfortunate strike against directors fighting for their vision: Dahan’s film is a howlingly overwrought melodrama that bears little resemblance to the actual characters and events it portrays. This thing hits so many false notes along the way that it eventually becomes a risible waste of time for everyone involved, particularly the audience.
Going in, I expected Grace of Monaco to be a staid but respectful look at its subject, something akin to last year’s Diana, which was similarly thrashed by critics (Diana garnered an 8% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with Grace currently clocking in at 9%; for comparison’s sake, the most recent Adam Sandler comedy bests them both with 14%). A film like this has little chance of being enthralling, but maybe the reverence for its subject might shine through and rub off on the audience.
Nope. Grace of Monaco goes the other way entirely, opening with a fast and loose overview of events in Monaco, 1962 – nearly a decade after the former actress made To Catch a Thief for Alfred Hitchcock. Princess Grace (played by Nicole Kidman, who feels a little too frigid here but otherwise meets the demands of the part) welcomes the director (Roger Ashton-Griffiths, the first in a long line of celebrity bit parts) to Monaco, where he offers her the lead role in his next film: Marnie.
At first, I thought we might be in for some good, trashy fun. An early scene with Grace whipping around highway roads before nearly crashing – complete with rear projection to echo a similar scene in To Catch a Thief – seems to explicitly foreshadow her death resulting from an automobile accident in 1982. Later, Prince Rainier III (Tim Roth, one dimensional but given little to work with) clocks a French official for insulting his wife. Uh-huh.
This sets off a course of events so contrived and unrealistic they could only have come from the pen of a screenwriter (here, Arash Amel). While Grace struggles with the decision to return to Hollywood, her husband goes toe-to-toe with French president Charles de Gaulle (André Penvern), who wants to enforce an income tax upon Monaco upon seeing French business flee to the tax haven during the Algerian War.
Since we all care so very much about this French-Monégasque version of the Cuban Missile Crisis – with just slightly smaller stakes – that’s what this Grace Kelly biopic turns into. Now, de Gaulle may have Rainier in the corner, but he didn’t count on Princess Grace and her annual charity ball, where (spoiler alert!) she delivers a speech so effective that it causes the French president to back off half a year later.
I nearly forgot to mention Princess Grace’s My Fair Lady-like conversion from uncouth American to cultured European – in the space of a few weeks – under the tutelage of Count Fernando D’Ailieres (Derek Jacobi). This all occurs six years after she becomes Princess of Monaco, because that’s when this movie takes place. Frank Langella shows up as Grace’s lone American friend in Monaco, Father Francis Tucker; Paz shows up as Maria Callas, and Robert Lindsay is Aristotle Onassis, who appears in this film for reasons unknown to me.
Fashioning his film as a pseudo-thriller, with overbearing music (courtesy of Guillaume Roussel) underlining every melodramatic moment, director Dahan seems to be going for a Hitchcock vibe but ends up with low-rent De Palma. I would be remiss not to mention the Eric Gautier’s cinematography, which during five separate scenes (I counted) gets so close to Kidman’s face that nothing but her eyes fill the screen, as if she were dueling in a Sergio Leone western. The camera shakes, the focus blurs – okay, we get it! There’s something going on inside that noggin!
The story of Grace Kelly, from Philadelphia to Hollywood to Monaco, is interesting enough without all of Grace of Monaco‘s melodrama ratcheting things up to 11; the Royal Family of Monaco, likely dumfounded by what has ended up on the screen, has issued multiple statements distancing themselves from the film. Sorry, Harvey – no amount of re-editing is going to save this one.