Diana Drumm is reporting for The Film Experience from Cannes
As you should know by now, thanks to mid-screening tweets, prompt reviews and Nathaniel being awesome as always, Grace of Monaco is bad. So bad that Cannes critics are being divided into indifference, dislike and rollicking hate. I, for one, fall into a fourth category, that of the now-jaded hopeful still grappling with how it all could have gone so horribly wrong. It’s from the director behind La Vie En Rose and... NICOLE KIDMAN. And I do mean grappling, I’ve barely eaten since that lovely sandwich or slept since nodding off on the Nice-Cannes commuter and my attempts at writing an actual review have gone the way of nonsensical jibberish with many ‘rather’s, ‘while’s and ‘thereby’s. Plus I’ve missed multiple opportunities to stow-away on champagne and celebrity-laden yachts. (Well, maybe not, but you get the gist – me, bedraggled by disappointment.) It could be the jet lag typing, but I wish I could go back to the before time, before I knew for certain that Grace of Monaco was a bad film.
For weeks, I’ve been hushing naysayers, lah-lah-lahing the latest Weinstein cut rumors and ignoring the strawberry blonde Nicole Kidman as Grace press photos. With its synopsis reading like My Week with Marilyn meeting Evita for cucumber sandwiches to discuss an upcoming charity event and swap stories about who was handsier, Ari Onassis or Alfred Hitchcock, I kept telling myself that whether Grace was good or bad, it would be nice to see Grace Kelly’s story onscreen. I was wrong, so wrong. This isn’t to say that the film’s downright awful, or even amongst Cannes’ worst (Splitting Heirs, anyone?), but as someone with only love in her heart would say, it’s not that I’m angry, it’s that I’m hurt and disappointed.
Princess Grace and Old Hollywood fairy tales after the jump...
Some of you may be asking why should I or you or anybody care about a girl from the Main Line who made a few films of varying quality and married the prince of the Europe’s smallest principality. Some diehard Judy Garland fans may even be crossing themselves at the mere mention of her name. Honestly, I can’t answer for you, but for me, it’s because in my heart of hearts Grace Kelly represents a naturally strong, authentic beauty (albeit with a coached accent) that succeeded, however briefly, in a cruel, weak and tragic world. She may not have wholly lived up to that ideal in each and every one of her actions, but can you name anyone who has?
And I’m not referring to her pointed chin or her slender legs or her blonde hair and blue eyes, I’m talking about the woman who made her way from a dysfunctional albeit wealthy family to the Barbizon Hotel to Beverly Hills to Monaco through sheer gumption and magnetism. Along the way, she may have slept around (Clark Gable?), ruined a few marriages (Ray Milland?), broken a few hearts (Bing Crosby?) and made a questionable movie or two (I love Stewart Granger, but have yet to make it all the way through Green Fire.), but her lasting legacy is that of a woman who wouldn’t let anyone stand in her way and who tried to make the world a better place in the only way she knew how. (Funnily enough, that last bit echoes the sentiment of a climactic speech made by Nicole Kidman’s Grace Kelly in Grace of Monaco, but more on that later.)
So when Grace of Monaco opened the festival this Wednesday and the scathing reviews began to roll out, it was like we let Grace Kelly down. We let our princess down, America’s and Hollywood’s, and in France no less.
While the opening credits rolled, there was no clear sign of the iceberg up ahead. And then emblazoned on the screen was a very well known, widely referenced quote from Kelly...
The idea of my life as a fairy tale is itself a fairy tale”
Kidman reads it aloud in voice-over. I could feel my eyes roll. Whereas Kidman had transformed her voice into a nearly unrecognizable gruffness for her role as war correspondent Martha Gelhorn in the HBO movie Hemingway & Gelhorn, she apparently couldn’t be bothered to put on Kelly’s own put-on Mid-Atlantic accent to read Kelly’s own gosh darn quote. Well maybe this was some attempt at a meta introduction, perhaps a Kidman tribute of sorts before falling so deeply into the character that we’d forget it was her not Kelly on the big screen? Nope, no sirree, Bob. For the rest of the film, Nicole Kidman has her usual pithy, slightly Brit-sounding accent.
Lo! What light through Grace of Monaco’s first frame breaks? It is a studio soundstage and Grace is with Frank Sinatra in a car. Arise fair Grace, and kill my worrisome doubts…
Put less pretentiously, the film opens with Grace Kelly wrapping her final scene on High Society, the one where her Tracy Lord drives Sinatra’s Mr. Connor through the Pennsylvania countryside. The director calls cut, the crew begins to applaud and Grace gets out of the car, manicured blonde curls and all. As the figure turns to the camera, her face is revealed and Kidman’s highly emotive eyes betray her Kelly guise… That being said, who in the world could have pulled off playing Grace Kelly? Robin Wright pre or post Penn? A more emotive January Jones? A less simmering Michelle Pfeiffer? Feel free to share any suggestions, enlightening or otherwise, in the comment section below.
From there, the script falls down a wormhole of name and factoid-dropping, trying to touch on every aspect of Grace Kelly’s life in Monaco (from memories of Ocean City, N.J. to riding horses with Maria Callas to Charles de Gaulle threatening to “send Monaco back to the Dark Ages!”) with Kidman trailing behind on faltering missteps (her face winding tighter and her eyes looking more frazzled by the scene). When Kelly joins in a heated political discussion on Ari Onassis’s yacht, Kidman’s delivery of meant-to-be spirited comebacks (see Kelly going back and forth with Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief) come off as immaturely snippish retorts. While reading lines from Marnie into a gilded mirror, she repeats that film’s infamously campy “If you touch me again, I’ll die” line over and over until the words turn into an unbelievably exasperated whimper. In the film’s big climax at Monaco’s yearly Red Cross ball, Grace Kelly’s moving speech disintegrates into a rambling stream-of-consciousness about love and beauty conquering all, resembling Jacqueline Bisset’s acceptance speech at last year’s Golden Globes much more than the intended tide-changing denouncement of French involvement in Monaco’s government. Yes, Kelly could be haughty, vulnerable, and even desperate onscreen (see