Review: Grace of Monaco (2014)

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Director: Olivier Dahan
Screenwriter: Arash Amel
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella, Parker Posey, Milo Ventimiglia, Derek Jacobi, Paz Vega & Robert Lindsay
Runtime: 103 min // Certificate: PG

Don’t believe the hype; Grace of Monaco is far, far worse than you’ve no doubt heard.

Like the putrid spawn of a pungent perfume advert and an ITV regency drama, Grace of Monaco’s sole success is that it manages to make Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana look mildly competent. It’s sort of impressive that a film whose prime focus is one of the most fascinating and talented stars of Hollywood’s “golden age” can be quite this tedious, yet Olivier Dahan rises to the “challenge” of turning Grace Kelly into little more than a vapid pawn in the war games of idiotic men rather valiantly.

It’s tough to pinpoint the exact moment at which Grace of Monaco jumps the proverbial shark, though it’s safe to say that the pre-film EE adverts were more entertaining than anything this waste of celluloid had to offer. It might seem like kicking a victim while he’s down, but Grace of Monaco really does deserve every bit of venom and scorn thrown in its airbrushed face, not least because it wants so desperately to be taken seriously. Were Amel – the screenwriter – seeking simply to tell a love story then one could forgive it for being so rotten, but he goes out of his way to contrive political dramas and to suggest that the fictional events that drive his film are of some grand importance, thus making the whole miserable affair all the more ludicrous.

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Unsurprisingly then, the screenplay is dire. It isn’t just trite, simplistic and childish, but it’s also rather insulting, both to the audience and to the memory of Grace Kelly. A mundane conflict over tax revenues between Monaco and France is resolved by Ms Kelly making a laughable speech about the power of love and forgiveness (you can practically see that infamous soft touch Charles de Gaulle’s heart melting as she talks…) while Rainier’s rather cavalier, callous – perhaps even a little abusive – attitude to his wife is excused with the revelation that he’s a bit stressed. Oh fair enough, that’s alright then; you carry on treating your wife like shit mate, we don’t mind, honestly! You belittle her in front of her friends and family, don’t worry. We’ll still support you in your dick-measuring contest with de Gaulle no matter what, just go for it!

Not even the natural splendour of Monaco can gloss over the inherent repulsiveness of Amel’s screenplay. Dahan directs with all the sophistication of a cheap tour guide, capturing Monaco at its most bland and uninspiring, while his stars phone in a series of performances that range from laughable (Roth; Pulp Fiction) to tragic (Kidman; The Hours). It doesn’t help that Nicole Kidman isn’t, and never will be, a patch on Grace Kelly, lacking as she does the star’s domineering presence, her effortless charisma and her innate beauty, but even if one were able to accept her in the role, her performance is still dreadful in every possible respect. Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) is the only one who emerges from the tawdry affair with his dignity left intact, though that’s less a result of his own, personal talent as it is the sheer ghastliness of his co-stars.

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Grace of Monaco is an empty film that reduces its central character to a pawn. She acts only to please her husband and to seek acceptance from the residents of Monaco, displaying not one shred of autonomy in the process. Even in those rare moments when she is seen to assert herself, she only does so after seeking permission from one of the film’s interchangeable male brutes. Dahan and Amel engage in nothing more than a one-dimensional portrayal of an immensely-talented woman, seeing her solely through the eyes of an antiquated fairy tale that is comical at best and outright offensive at worst.

To say that Grace of Monaco is “so bad it’s good” is to excuse it for too many crimes against storytelling, characterisation and general human decency. It is just plain bad. It does nothing to assert itself – much like Grace herself – has nothing whatsoever to say about Grace Kelly the woman (as opposed to Grace Kelly the Princess, or Grace Kelly the actor, about whom it unfortunately has lots of things to say, though none of them are remotely interesting) and it relies almost entirely on period drama costumes and fancy locations to flog its tacky wares.

Don’t even go in hoping to laugh at how bad it is, because Dahan and Amel aren’t clever enough to make a film quite that shit. It’s just mind-numbingly boring.