GRACE OF MONACO
DIRECTOR: Olivier Dahan
CAST: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella, Derek Jacobi, Paz Vega
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
RATING: 2 stars (out of 5)
AS EVOCATIVE as a glossy magazine, this sepia-tinged fictional creation of a princess is part nostalgia for the 1960s and part love song to the concept of luminous screen presence. It is also wholly a case of style over substance.
Bathed in golden light, Nicole Kidman serenely floats across the screen, and the principality of Monaco, presented here as the plucky little Riviera enclave which can.
The camera lovingly lingers on Kidman’s face as she tries to become the princess of Monaco, which is essentially the storyline too.
Set to the background of Monaco trying to fend off the evil Charles de Gaulle (Andre Penvern) and his tax demanding ways, but aaaaall about Princess Grace and her attempt to become the princess – which we are told time and time again is the be-all and end-all of her existence, by every person who gets a speaking line – this looks good. But that’s about all it does.
Picture it. The whole movie builds up to this very big party the princess is going to throw for the International Red Cross.
Princess Grace and Prince Rainier (Roth) arrive to rapturous applause from the hoi polloi waiting to catch a glimpse of the screen darling who got her happily-ever-after. She obliges by walking over and shaking hands while the who’s who of politicos (ie de Gaulle) can only look on in envy. He has been booed, but everyone loves the fairy-tale princess.
Light glints off diamond bedorned necks and chandeliers alike as the princess glides into the ballroom on the arm of her proud prince to the sublime strains of Maria Callas (Paz Vega plays the tempestuous opera singer, but that is definitely her voice you hear) singing O Mio Babbino Caro.
Far from subtle, this fictional biopic about the late Hollywood star hits you over the head with the message that she had to recreate herself as the princess – and it was a slog. But it was a worthy one because she then saved Monaco as a playground of the obscenely rich and famous.
Costume designer Gigi Lepage makes sure Kidman is never seen twice in the same extremely stylish costume, and the art directors throw everything at the screen, including sumptuous wallpaper, elegant hats and plenty of cigarettes.
Of course, it doesn’t help that all these lashings of style come at the expense of dramatic tension.
This is very much a tell, don’t bother to show anything but pretty costumes, kind of affair.
Every bit of dialogue explains what is going on, reinforcing the idea that Grace is going to have to princess up to save the day.
A scene in which she is reading a script for Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie, rehearsing poses in front of a mirror, is as telling as a later scene in which she takes lessons from a campy Derek Jacobi about schooling her emotions.
Kidman’s supposed to be acting out various emotions, but all that botox makes it difficult to tell just which emotion is supposed to be coming through.
As long as she stays still, though, breathlessly anticipating the next perfect photo op, that’s when it works as a frozen moment in time that never existed.
The stories swirling around the film are turning out to be more interesting than the film itself, or at least this particular version, which is an edited compromise between producer Harvey Weinstein and director Olivier Dahan.
Apparently Dahan’s original version was much darker, while Weinstein favoured a lighter touch. Compromising on either of those ideas has led to a compromised film offering.
In a effort to outdo each other, the critics at the Cannes Film Festival are having way too much fun hurling around nasty adjectives. It’s not aaaaall bad. Those glamorous costumes are so totally the Christian Dior glamour we can only wish for, AND Monaco in golden light looks like the perfect getaway for readers of Madame.
If you liked W.E. or Diana, you will like this.