Friday, April 10, 2015

Nicole Kidman as GRACE OF MONACO

News came that GRACE OF MONACO, starring Nicole Kidman, will not play at a cineplex near you.  Instead, it will go to Lifetime TV for airing around the end of May.  I don't mean this in a snarky way:  That is a good move.  I've seen it and, although a handsome production that's well-acted, it's more a Lifetime TV movie than a big screen attraction.  Yes, it's well-acted but it's not well-written.  The Grace of Monaco script is like Salisbury steak served on a very fancy silver platter.  You can call it what you want and give it a real high-tone presentation, but it's still just ground beef with some gravy on it.
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly, a woman who, like herself, won an Oscar® for Best Actress.  Kelly, a Philadelphia beauty, was the daughter of a self-made millionaire.          

Out to distinguish herself as an actress, she starred in three thrillers directed by Alfred Hitchcock -- Dial M for Murder...the classic Rear Window co-starring James Stewart...
...and To Catch a Thief co-starring Cary Grant.
Kelly went drab and dramatic for a black and white adaptation of a Broadway play.  She won her Oscar for playing the strong yet emotionally frayed wife of a co-dependent alcoholic has-been singing star. They were happy when he was a star and she was a lovely mother of their little boy.  Tragedy struck.  The husband started drinking.  The years went by, his stardom faded and she fell from being dear wife to strict nursemaid in their marriage.  Now her husband has a chance to make a Broadway comeback with a director who believes in him but blames the wife for the singer's insecurities.
Bing Crosby and William Holden co-starred.  Kelly was up against Judy Garland, nominated for her stunning screen comeback in A Star Is Born.  Garland was the favorite.  She and Kelly were the frontrunners in the Best Actress Oscar race.  Winners were Grace Kelly for The Country Girl and Marlon Brando, Best Actor for On the Waterfront.
Kelly and Crosby reteamed for the musical comedy remake of The Philadelphia Story. Grace took on the role originated by Katharine Hepburn. With an original score by Cole Porter and co-starring Frank Sinatra, 1956's High Society would be her last movie.

In 1956, she married Prince Rainier of Monaco and became Princess Grace.  To the world, the Hollywood star and Oscar-winning golden girl had a fairytale life when she married into royalty.  Her wedding was broadcast to 30 million viewers.  Grace of Monaco implies that her most difficult role and her greatest performance was in seeming happy with her life as the princess who never made another movie.  Her Serene Highness was anything but serene according to this biopic -- if you can call this Nicole Kidman fashion show a biopic.  It opened last year's Cannes Film Festival.  The critical response was unenthusiastic.  Grace of Monaco was slated to open for moviegoers last December.  The opening was pushed to March of this year.  Then a theatrical release was cancelled.

In the opening credits, the screen reads that the film is a "fictional account inspired by real life events."  What?  That makes it sound like it's a storybook production in itself.  There's political intrigue involving Prince Rainier and France's Charles de Gaulle.  Grace is sabotaged and the prince is betrayed.  Was any of that true or were those screenplay creations inspired by real life events?  As the story opens, Princess Grace is an outspoken woman against French colonialism and determined to help the underprivileged.  She's frustrated that she can't greenlight repairs to be made on a hospital wing because Red Cross women want to hold a charity ball instead.  She's like a beautiful butterfly that's been caught and pinned under glass for display.  She can't fly.  She can't move.  She does not want to be trophy wife with a title and an Oscar.

The action starts with the rear view of a country road during a fast drive.  Later, when Princess Grace is frustrated by the Red Cross committee, she drives angrily back at a high speed.  It feels like a motif is being set up for Grace's end.  She died from injuries in 1982 when she reportedly suffered a stroke while driving on a curvy downhill road and the vehicle crashed.  She was only 52.  No mention of Princess Grace's death or how she died is made in the movie.
Two things are established in opening scenes:  Hollywood still wants Grace.  Alfred Hitchcock has traveled to Monaco to see his friend "Gracie" and give her the script to Marnie.  He offers her the role and she's interested.  The studio will pay her $1 million.  But palace sabotage nixes her opportunity to star in Hitchcock's 1964 release.  Also, the royal marriage is on the rocks.  Hitchcock honestly remarks, "You look tired."  She reveals this to the director about Prince Rainier: "We rarely see each other."
Grace of Monaco opens with Grace Kelly in a make-believe convertible with Frank Sinatra as they wrap the 1956 musical on a Hollywood soundstage.  Then there's newsreel footage of her marrying a prince.  Then Hitchcock visits with the Marnie offer and we learn that the royal marriage is not so happy at that time.  We never really learn about Grace Kelly the actress and what made her special in Hollywood before she married into royalty.  We hear that she won an Oscar but are never told what she won it for and what she did to win it.  We learn nothing about her determination as an actress.  Maybe she didn't have the acting range of a Bette Davis, a Barbara Stanwyck or a Judy Garland -- but upper class Grace was a hard worker and ambitious.  Her first Oscar nod was a Best Supporting Actress nomination for 1953's Mogambo.  Her Best Actress victory was for 1954's The Country Girl.  Her other 1954 releases were Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, The Bridges at Toko-Ri and Green Fire.  She acted on Broadway and on network television.  In the 1950s, the screen newcomer acted opposite men who'd been top Hollywood stars since the 1930s -- Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Ray Milland, Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper and James Stewart.  Come 1955, she was Hollywood's highest-earning female star.  Her 1956 royal wedding was broadcast live to 30 million European viewers.

We never learn how she met the prince or what the attraction was.  What made her fall in love with him?  When we meet him in Grace of Monaco, Prince Rainier (played by Tim Roth) comes off like a chauvinist jerk.  Her verbally belittles her in public. Kidman as Grace seeks counsel from a friendly, blunt Monaco priest who tells her that she is "a housewife with two bratty kids" and that being Princess Grace is "not real life and it's not real love."  She gets help from a senior Monaco insider played by Derek Jacobi.  We get a sequence that's right out of The Princess Diaries.  

Princess Grace endures a royal refinement crash course. She's taught how to carry herself, how to speak French, and how to convey feelings with a glance - feelings like anger, arrogance, serenity.  It's Kidman's "the eyes have it" portion of the film.  Her eye-acting is shot in close-up as she gets advice from the priest (played by Frank Langella).
But this was Grace Kelly, an Oscar-winning Hollywood star known for elegance and poise before she got to Monaco.  Had the writer and director never seen her in Rear Window, To Catch a Thief  and The Country Girl?  That makeover sequence with Jacobi was cute but seemed unnecessary.

Much of the story concerns Prince Rainier's tense political intrigue with Charles de Gaulle and a possible military takeover. Who is the palace traitor?  Grace claims her Princess position and authority.  That, coupled with her acting skills, help the prince. Kidman has a juicy scene when she smokes out who has betrayed her husband.  Princess Grace lets her Philadelphia claws out in that showdown.

Also in the Grace of Monaco cast is the extremely under-utilized and talented Parker Posey as a stern palace assistant who may be out to sabotage the princess.  What doesn't Hollywood get about Parker Posey? Did you see her in Party Girl, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind? Hollywood should've been giving her roles like Teri Garr got for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Young Frankenstein, The Black Stallion and Tootsie.  Madge is not much of a role but Parker Posey does her best.
Instead of a biopic, this feature comes off like Nicole Kidman starring in a remake of a Grace Kelly movie from the early 1950s.  A remake shot for Lifetime TV.  Again, that's where Grace of Monaco belongs.  Kidman looks fabulous in this fictional account.


  1. Good comments, I covered this farrago myself recently:

  2. Farrago. You are absolutely correct. The perfect word for it.


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