Watching Olivier Dahan’s Grace of Monaco is like reliving those corny, over-glossed Chanel No.5 adverts that incidentally also starred his own leading lady, Nicole Kidman. Keeping to that same level of insincerity and over-elaborate tone, the fictionalised account of former Hollywood royalty Grace Kelly’s turbulent transition from superstar actress to Princess of Monaco has all the makings of a mediocre TV movie that has somehow made its way to the big screen.
After leaving the glitz and glam of Hollywood behind her following a whirlwind romance to the Prince of Monaco, Rainier III (Tim Roth), Grace Kelly (Kidman) struggles to adapt to life away from acting in a time of unrest for the sovereign state. Tempted by an offer to return to the big screen by Alfred Hitchcock (Roger Ashton-Griffiths), Kelly must decide where her future lies as Monaco faces an uncertain future amid a nasty political dispute between her husband and France’s President, Charles De Gaulle (André Penvern).
It all very much feels like a film within a film, where we have an Oscar winner taking on the role of a lifetime: a princess. Monaco is just one big stage for Kelly as she prepares to show the world her most challenging performance to date. This idea that she is performing, that it is all one big act, is eluded too throughout – there are even scenes of her practicing different facial expressions and running lines to herself in front of a mirror. Unfortunately for everyone who has to witness this, the dull script and lifeless performances do not quite catch up with its extravagant surroundings.
Bringing the two central issues together – love and politics – and mashing it all together to make one absurdly hollow, yet very glitzy affair is no mean feat. Style over substance is the easiest and most obvious criticism to make of Dahan’s portrayal of Grace Kelly’s life in Monaco, and one the critics at the Cannes Film Festival were not shy in pointing out. All the pretty dresses, antique cars and shiny boats in the universe can not cover up the matter in hand: Grace of Monaco has no heart, nor soul.
Likened for obvious reasons to Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 2013 flop Diana, its dialogue and acting is breathtakingly wooden in equal measures. You get very little from the characters – like the apparent inner turmoil suffered by Kelly – nor do we really feel the impending doom that is supposedly looming over Monaco. You hope for their own sake, whether it be the embarrassing French accents, the horribly fake crocodile tears shed, or the awkward moment Kidman rehearses her lines in a mirror in what we can only imagine is an attempt at acting, that this was all just one big parody and the joke was really on us, the audience. Unfortunately we end up laughing, or certainly cringing, at them rather than with them.
What can not be forgiven is that a topic that looks so interesting on paper – the political turmoil, the lifestyle and the high-profile marriage – has been made to appear so bland on-screen. Something deep down in my gut still tells me that Hirschbiegel’s Diana was worse, but both sit uncomfortably in the same hemisphere of unadulterated tediousness that seems more fitting for daytime TV than the big screen.