In his song Grace Kelly, Mika proclaimed “I’ve gone identity mad!” Grace Of Monaco attempts to portray the crisis of identity the real Grace Kelly (Kidman) underwent. In marrying Prince Rainier III of Monaco (Roth), Kelly left her life as a Hollywood actress behind, but she was constantly reminded that the people of Monaco would not recognise the daughter of a Philadelphia bricklayer as one of their own. As France threatens to tax and possibly annex Monaco, resulting in a heated dispute between Rainier and France’s Charles de Gaulle (André Penvern), Kelly, now a wife, mother and princess, is tempted to return to acting. Director Alfred Hitchcock (Ashton-Griffiths) comes calling with the script for his new film Marnie and, with the whole world watching (and judging), the princess must decide what role she will play in the future of the principality.
Many biopics have been criticised for taking a “cradle to the grave” approach, attempting to condense the entire lives of their subjects into two and a half hours or so. Grace Of Monaco instead focuses on a short, specific period in Grace Kelly’s life, which the actual royal family of Monaco claims has been highly fictionalised and is filled with factual inaccuracies. The film’s post-production process has also been turbulent, with director Olivier Dahan and distributor Harvey Weinstein feuding over the final cut and the release date being shuffled multiple times. The film ends up being overripe and uneven, hokey and melodramatic, if still watchable and somewhat palatable.
Grace Of Monaco is a pretty film to look at, cinematographer Eric Gautier dousing the movie in soft fill light. There are elegant costumes and sets galore, but one can’t help but feel a sense of artifice – at its worst, the movie evokes a movie-of-the-week affair, a pity given the marvellous La Vie En Rose, which Dahan also directed. The central conflict with its almost-intrigue and kinda-stakes just doesn’t feel as weighty as it needs to be, the film instead generating moments of overwrought emotion that, despite Kidman’s best efforts, fail to ring altogether true. There’s even a montage that feels straight out of something like The Princess Diaries in which Grace Kelly takes elocution and history lessons in order to become a better princess.
Kidman reportedly beat out the likes of Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain, Amy Adams, Gwyneth Paltrow and January Jones for the coveted title role. She’s certainly not a terrible Grace Kelly, mustering up all of her glamour and, well, grace to play the part. But there isn’t a lot of depth to the portrayal beyond “being a princess isn’t the fantasy it’s cracked up to be”. One would think that, given the narrower scope of the film compared to a conventional biopic, we’d get more room for meaningful characterisation and Kidman tries, but ultimately doesn’t deliver a well-rounded depiction of Kelly. We hear many frustrated exclamations, including “why must everything be so complicated?” and “Ah! So difficult!” At no point does “Nicole Kidman the actor” disappear for “Grace Kelly the person” to take her place. She does have her moments though; the climactic speech she delivers at the end is sufficiently moving. She’s also a good deal taller than her onscreen husband; something Kidman is probably used to.
Roth is careful not to turn Prince Rainier into a stiff, stern caricature and, while he doesn’t have much chemistry with Kidman, he is believable as the Prince pushed into a tight spot. Frank Langella is the requisite kindly father figure as Father Francis Tucker, one of Rainier III’s closest friends and most trusted advisors, warm and wise even when saddled with platitudes such as “At some point, every fairy tale must end”. Ashton-Griffiths is a decent, convincing Hitchcock, playing the legendary director as a gruff but well-meaning uncle.
Grace Of Monaco is far from subtle – we get an ominous car/driving motif (of course) and some clumsy, on-the-nose cues in the score. It’s difficult to take the film entirely seriously, but perhaps there’s a charm in the silliness – it’s unlikely that it was what Dahan intended, but for what it’s worth, Grace Of Monaco is far from detestable or brazenly divisive. Sensationalised? Sure. More than a little awards-baity? You bet. But is it trash? Nah.
Summary: At one point, Princess Grace tells her husband “Rai, it’s just a movie”. Go into Grace Of Monaco with that mindset and perhaps you might enjoy yourself. As a dramatic, insightful exploration of the life of the screen legend though, it mostly misses the mark.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars