Grace of Monaco does many interesting things but one thing it won’t do is enable Nicole Kidman to win an Oscar the way Olivier Dehan’s last major film, La Vie En Rose, enabled Marion Cotillard to win for her performance as Edith Piaf. That isn’t going to happen, and neither are many other Oscar nominations, with the possible exception of costume design. But that doesn’t mean Grace of Monaco is without its rewards. Despite eruptions of inappropriate laughter throughout this morning’s screening, there is still nothing quite like watching an actress as skilled as Nicole Kidman sink her teeth into a role.
Grace of Monaco takes us inside the life of Grace Kelly during the time when she had the chance to do Hitchcock’s Marnie but then decided to put on her big girl pants and help rule Monaco, or rather, help save its sovereignty. Her relationship with Prince Rainier (Tim Roth) and Father Frances Tucker (Frank Langella) are all that really keep her going in a life she can’t stand.
In 1963, Charles de Gaulle imposed sanctions against Monaco in angry response to its status as a tax-free haven for the wealthiest of French citizens, and the film seems to say that nothing but the presence of Princess Grace helped avert a crisis. Here’s where Grace of Monaco stumbles. Had the focus remained on Grace’s inner struggles between marriage, family and career it might have kept its attention on aspects an audience wanted to see. The uneasy mix of political maneuvering with scenes of royal supremacy makes you wonder how much of either is real or fabricated. Monaco’s status as playground for the rich had existed for nearly a century with no need for the principality to import a Hollywood princess, so any historical impact feels diluted by the presence of her fairytale lifestyle.
That Grace Kelly rose to the occasion to make Monaco and its royalty seem more respectable is an interesting slant, but in this film it’s hard to find the urgency in such a setup — just as it seems a little pointless to pity the poor princess whose two hard choices in life seem to be whether to take a part in a Hitchcock film or be a princess in a fantasy country. Even her marriage to Rainier doesn’t seem all that bad — he supports her desire to do a movie, he loves her, and all in all what could be so bad about that? She made those choices. She wasn’t forced into them.
Apparently this screenplay by Arash Amel was on the blacklist — a place where supposedly great screenplays wait to be discovered. I can’t help but wonder how scripts are rated to get on that list and if scripts like this exist there then how reliable can it be? In fact, the writing is the worst part of the whole thing, with clumsy lines of dialogue that land with a thud.
The film does get some things right, namely the casting of Kidman. Even though she looks nothing like Grace Kelly, Kidman dug deep to uncover what she believed were Kelly’s strengths and weaknesses. She also looks fantastic in the beautifully designed costumes.
The director tosses in some clever Hitchcock references throughout, since Kelly’s persona was a familiar trademark of the Hitchcock brand. There is a Mrs. Danvers, an homage to To Catch a Thief, and even a nice little hat-tip to Hitchcock’s editing in Rope.