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New Release Review - Grace of Monaco

Former Hollywood star Grace Kelly struggles to adapt to life as Princess of Monaco.

Directed by: Olivier Dahan
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella, Paz Vega, Milo Ventimiglia, Parker Posey, Derek Jacobi, Roger Ashton-Griffiths




1962. Former Hollywood star Grace Kelly (Kidman) has spent six years as Princess of the tiny European tax haven principality of Monaco. When Alfred Hitchcock (Ashton-Griffiths) asks her to return to the screen in the lead of his forthcoming project Marnie, Grace finds herself torn between her previous life and her current role of Princess, one which she is struggling to portray convincingly.
Director Olivier Dahan (who made an international star of Marion Cotillard with his 2007 Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose) opens his latest investigation of a 20th century female icon with an elaborate tracking shot. The sequence begins on a Hollywood soundstage, where his title subject has just finished performing for the day, and follows Grace through the backlot into her trailer. All this time, the camera has remained behind the actress and it's only when she seats herself in front of her trailer's mirror that we see her face. This is the movie's first stumbling block; the face looking back at us is that of Nicole Kidman, an actress who bears no resemblance to Kelly. Had Dahan not gone to such lengths to make her first appearance such a smug, proud reveal, we might have accepted her in the role a little more forgivingly. Kidman, almost two decades older than Kelly was at the time the film is set, comes across closer to Naomi Watts' portrayal of that other revered Princess (though this film never comes close to being the outright turkey Diana was) than the one in question here.
The casting issues extend to the supporting roles. Grace repeatedly moans about how out of place she feels in her mediterranean surroundings but this is severely undermined by Dahan's casting of American and British actors in the role of Monaco's natives.
The film never quite settles on what story it wants to spin. It begins as a tale of a girl from Philly struggling to adapt to life as a Princess, a Fresh Princess if you will, but at the point the movie begins, Grace had spent a full six years in this life; you would think she would have had it figured out by then. The dilemma of whether to return to Hollywood stardom or remain as Princess is possibly the ultimate first world problem, so Dahan dismisses this one quickly. The film then becomes a polite upper class version of What's Love Got to do With it?, with Roth's Rainier a passive aggressive Ike to Kidman's Tina. Not wanting to portray one of Europe's beloved members of royalty too negatively, Dahan quickly turns Rainier from a sexist cad into a sensitive little boy who needs Grace by his side when the movie's ultimate villain, French President Charles de Gaulle, begins threatening the state of Monaco with invasion, a scenario that, in Dahan's hands, becomes Europe's Cuban Missile Crisis.
It's in the final act that things become particularly ludicrous, as Dahan practically remakes The King's Speech as The Princess's Speech. Just as Colin Firth had to lose his stutter in order to galvanise the British Empire for the oncoming war, here Kidman must learn which of the small forks to slice her melon with, before making an impassioned speech in order to win over de Gaulle and save the principality from being nuked into the sea. If de Gaulle was as French as history portrays him, I suspect his focus may have been more on Kelly's lips than the words emanating from them.
As I sit here writing this snarky review, I'll pause a moment to give thanks to the shy, retiring girl from Philadelphia who saved my continent from the brink of destruction by teaching the dastardly French that all we need is love. Thank you Monsieur Dahan for finally shedding light on this turbulent piece of forgotten European history.
5/10


Eric Hillis

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