Grace of Monaco
If you know of modern Hollywood, you probably know the story of the film Grace of Monaco, a film about a key political time for Monaco, and of an important time in Grace Kelly's own life. It's a film which has hit controversy as it wasn't too well received by critics at the Cannes Film Festival, has been denounced by the Royalty of Monaco, and threatened with a further edit by the American distributor, Harvey Weinstein.
Considering it stars Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella, Derek Jacobi, Robert Lindsay, Geraldine Somerville, Milo Ventimiglia, Paz Vega, Parker Posey, and more, I decided to go in there with positivity.
Grace of Monaco is the story of former Hollywood star Grace Kelly's crisis of marriage and identity, during a political dispute between Monaco's Prince Rainier III and France's Charles de Gaulle, and a looming French invasion of Monaco in the early 1960s.
The first thing that's worth talking about before I hit the film as a whole is Nicole Kidman. There are moments during the film where you definitely see the look of Grace Kelly in her and, just for a brief moment or two, you believe it could actually be her in shots. It's rather amazing considering how different she does look from the actual star.
Regardless of how visually convincing she is, her performance is very good as the character in the film. At times she does seem overly breathy and dramatic but she also has some powerful moments, particularly at the end of the film. She is a great actress and it's easy to be drawn into her performances, although here that isn't entirely the case. There are some hefty barriers in the way to getting drawn into her character, barriers brought on by the script and the film-making, but more of them later.
Tim Roth plays Prince Rainier III of Monaco, her husband and the man on whose shoulders lies a hefty burden of what to do following the French ultimatum and blockade. He gives a good performance with a limited character, he does have some good moments when the political aspect of the story takes over.
He's joined by a number of other strong actors who can easily deliver good performances but whom I felt just didn't have the characters or material with which to shine. Frank Langella is one such actor, and while it appears he has more lines and screen time than Roth, he doesn't get any real weight behind his character. Saying that he still manages to deliver a natural performance with ease.
Looking away from the actors and to the story, I can see where some of the complaints might arise. One of the problems I found for most of film was the difficulty in marrying the two, or perhaps even three, main story threads together. There are two key stories, that of Grace Kelly and her transition from Hollywood to Princess of Monaco, and the key point in Monaco's history where France threatened invasion if it didn't start taxing its citizens and companies. It could easily be argued that there's a third story thread, that of the marriage between Kelly and the Prince, or indeed with Monaco itself.
I felt that there was a lot of interest in the two main threads of the story of Kelly and of Monaco. The first is almost an age old fairy tale dragged into reality, and the lure of Hollywood as Alfred Hitchcock attempts to get her back for one more film, a film that could define her career. Yet her responsibility, the need to become part of Monaco and gain acceptance by the people weighs heavy on her. There's a film there in itself.
The same can be said of the second main story, that of Monaco itself. Pitting itself against France, which goes to the stage of blockading the principality, is a powerful political and historical story, and one that I wasn't that aware of. It seems a fascinating story of political posturing, intrigue and international politics. It has everything that could make it a powerful political thriller.
Skirting around these two stories, and mainly around the story of Grace Kelly, we have the thread of the new marriage between Kelly and the Prince, and also of her marriage to Monaco and the people itself. Of course the events around it in the two main story threads are important, but it also feels like there's another complete story here, one that is visited a number of times through the film, mainly with the priest as the guide.
While it seems the film could be packed with everything it would need for a fantastic dramatic thriller, the film just doesn't seem to gel these threads together for almost its entirety. It seems as though there are two different films fighting for space on the screen, the story of Grace Kelly and that of Monaco, and for all this time I was finding myself drawn to the story of Monaco which seemed the more interesting one.
The story of Kelly is presented with the same airy breath of the character and just lightly breezed over me without stopping to gain much interest at all. It seemed as though the film was trying to concentrate on this thread, but it just never managed to effectively tell it. Meanwhile the story of Monaco had me fascinated but never stayed long enough to deliver anything of worth.
The net outcome of this is that the film seems at times stilted, and a little confused as to where it's leading us and what it's trying to tell us, and it isn't just in the main threads either. Then there are aspects of the film which just don't seem properly explored, from individual characters, to the stories behind them, to smaller plot lines.
Some of the more important character explanations that were sorely missing were for the Hollywood publicist, the priest and that of the spy. It seemed strange that the publicist appears to handle the publicity on the film and then, when that work is no more, seems to be working as the publicist for Monaco.
For the priest it feels strange that he plays such an important part in the lives of the two main characters and yet himself is never explained or explored, he is simply there to deliver lines and enable the leads and their threads to develop in certain directions.
As for the spy, well this story thread went by with the barest minimum of explanation, in fact next to none at all, and it became a little confusing until well after the thread is complete and, reflectively, you understand what previously happened. I admit that I like having to use my brain rather than being spoon fed the story, but here it is a little too much.
The good news though is that all this confusion does dissipate come the latter part of the film when it does feel as though the main threads come closer together, although really the Grace Kelly story thread has ended and we've moved to the Monaco and marriage threads which begin to combine. It's here that the character of Kelly begins to grow in importance and weight, becoming far more involved in the story of Monaco and bringing that thread to a conclusion. The conclusion is a little bit of a let-down though, a quick speech and it seems like it was all over.
While there may be problems with the threads, there are problems with the dialogue which, at times, feels incredibly cheesy and clichéd. There are a couple of scenes in particular, but I'm continually drawn to think about the scene at the outdoor family lunch. The moment where Roth's character smashes his glass in frustration is embarrassingly cheesy and caused a few snorts of laughter from the audience of critics and reviewers. It was more than just critics being snooty as some might suggest, it was an incredibly cheesy moment that stood out like a sore thumb. This is probably the worst sequence of the film, but it isn't the only clichéd moment. There are quite a few moments that will either seem funny or groan-worthy, and both it would seem unintentionally.
It isn't only the dialogue that brought the cheese though, as the glass smashing scene showed. The score is overly dramatic at times and it was definitely one of the main reasons that this scene ended up feeling so cheesy and funny, I was expecting Leslie Nielsen to walk into shot. There are a number of scenes where the score just goes too dramatic and overpowers the film, especially early on and during Grace Kelly's story thread.
The camera work is also to blame and there are quite a few moments where we push in for a close-up and a reactionary look from a character that seems overly simplistic or, as I've already said, just plain cheesy. In fact there are a few moments where I felt myself wondering what the camera was up to, pulled out of the film, my attention was on the camerawork. This was particularly noticeable during moments such as the very close and stretched out reaction shot of Kidman as she listened to the Priest talking off camera. In scenes like this I can't remember what was being said or what the reason for the scene was, but I do remember what I was seeing, and it just didn't fit with what the scene was trying to deliver.
I felt there were a number of moments like this where the camera was doing something that took me away from the film and left me with the wrong feeling, the wrong direction for the scene. By direction I don't mean to say what the director should have done, but just where I felt where I should have been taken by the scene, and I wasn't taken there.
I think I can sum up the experience of watching Grace of Monaco quite easily, it's an afternoon television film with big name actors and actresses. Honestly it was that bad a film to watch. It feels just like the kind of light, mid-afternoon television movie which lacks any real depth to it, showing just a veneer of characterisation, which some might suggest reflects Monaco or Grace Kelly's public face. Regardless of that being the case, there was the potential for two great stories to be told through this film and neither gets the opportunity to be told properly.
This is all without discussing the controversy surrounding the behind the scenes stories of the Princely family pulling their support from the film and also without knowing who's edit we watched, whether it was the director's, Oliver Dahan, or the American distributor's, Harvey Weinstein.