The Cannes Festival organizers seem to like to kick off their show with a film that has a little celebrity juice even if said film doesn’t fit in all that well with the tenor and quality of the official selection. Last year it was The Great Gatsby and this year it was Olivier Dahan’s Grace of Monaco starring Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t really stand up to the glaring spotlight that Cannes offers, but taken on its own it’s a lot better than the Twitter insta-reactions based on this morning’s screening. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement, and I don’t mean it to be. Just take the inevitable overzealous pans with a grain of salt.
Grace of Monaco follows the former Rear Window and To Catch a Thief star from her marriage to Prince Rainier (Tim Roth) and subsequent retirement from Hollywood up through a crisis in Rainier’s government where France threatened to upend the monarchy and install Rainier’s sister in the 1960s. Despite tensions between her and the Prince, Kelly steps up and uses her considerable charm and the respect and love she’s earned of people all over the world in order to keep her husband’s rule intact.
The main question to be answered here is “How is Kidman as Grace Kelly?” The answer is that she’s just fine. She doesn’t especially look like Kelly, but she does a good job of capturing her expressions and gestures and inflections. It’s not a transformative performance like the one that got Marion Cotillard an Oscar for director Dahan’s La Vie En Rose, but it’s fine. Less successful is Roger Ashton-Griffiths’ hammy, on the nose caricature of Alfred Hitchcock, but he’s hardly in it enough to matter. Roth meanwhile is fine as Rainier and Frank Langella and Derek Jacobi lend interest as Father Tucker and Count D’Aillieres, two men who counsel Kelly during the rough times.
The film’s main problem is that it never really offers a reason why we should care at all what happens to the Monagasque monarchy. It’s nice seeing Kelly step in and use her considerable charms to win the day, but the stakes are so low as to barely register a dramatic heartbeat. On the other hand, Dahan is more interested in the collision between the Hollywood fairy tale and the real life (but less satisfying) one embodied by Kelly’s marriage to a prince. To a point it’s interesting to see Kelly trying to navigate both worlds before ultimately fusing them to the benefit of herself and her husband’s country, but even this feels kind of inert after a while.