Review: One-Time Oscar Hopeful Grace of Monaco Was Relegated to Lifetime for a Reason
That time Nicole Kidman was in a Lifetime movie, and it was as bad as we all thought it would be.
Lifetime has always struck me as an interesting network. Its slogan, “television for women,” has always seemed bizarre and condescending. Whoever interpreted what woman want from TV seems to believe depressing movies and Golden Girls are high on the list.
However, that isn’t to say all their movies are of the same quality. Some have actually been good (in fact, there was a period in the 2000 when they all but took over for the drop-off in quality network made-for-TV movies). And the channel is pretty successful at doing what they do, which made it a natural choice for them to start looking at theatrical films, much the same way IFC and Netflix do.
So now we essentially have two types of Lifetime films: Lifetime original films and Lifetime Premieres. These premieres are really theatrical films picked up for distribution by the channel because they fit their brand, and this is the latest step in their attempt to extend the brand in this digital, multi-platform world.
So far, we’ve seen three films in this experiment, and they have all been interesting. The first, Return to Zero, was actually excellent, although unbearably sad (Ordinary People/Terms of Endearment kind of sad). It also earned Minnie Driver a much deserved Emmy nomination. This year, we might see Emmy nominations for Saoirse Ronan and Cynthia Nixon for the Sundance Premiere title Stockholm, Pennsylvania, which isn’t as good, but has good performances and solid filmmaking behind it. But don’t expect any awards for last night’s Grace of Monaco, because this former Oscar hopeful is bad. Really, really, really bad.
If you don’t know the story, the film was picked up by Weinstein Company and promoted as a possible Oscar contender, with awards for Nicole Kidman in mind. It seemed like an Oscar lock, considering she was playing former Oscar winner Grace Kelly, who has become an icon. Then there were rumors of arguments over cuts between the director Olivier Dahan and Harvey Weinstein (never surprising news). The movie got pushed back, out of the Oscar race, and when it finally premiered at last year’s Cannes, it received a horrible response, with Weinstein arguing this was the director’s cut, not his. What finally aired last night is neither the Weinstein or Dahan cut, but a third, Lifetime TV cut (although the commercial breaks are pretty oddly placed). But that is all we’ll get, and I can’t imagine how this would have worked in any version.
So, here is the plot as I understood it (and it doesn’t make a lot of sense). Grace is offered Marnie by Alfred Hitchcock, while her husband is dealing with President of France and possible invasion. When news leaks, it causes political trouble for her husband, forcing her to pull out and commit further to her new role as princess. Again, I might have missed something, but everyone speaks with such a hushed tone of voice, it isn’t my fault. And that story has potential to be interesting; after all, adjusting to a role forced upon you can be interesting (The King’s Speech worked). This doesn’t work, for a few basic reasons: there is little logic, it isn’t cinematic, and it isn’t entertaining, leaving you to ask, why did they even want to make this movie?
I can totally understand why Nicole Kidman would want to play Grace Kelly. After all, she’s is one of Hollywood’s most iconic actresses, and her “fairytale” to princess is pretty interesting starting point for a story. But the reason people loved Kelly is the warmth and open-heart she expressed from within her poised body and stunning looks. It made people feel close to her and identify with her, despite so many referring to her as the most beautiful woman in Hollywood. Nicole Kidman is also one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, but on the surface, warmth is not something she exudes. It is the reason she works so well in darker roles like in Malice, To Die For, The Others, and Stoker (and yes, even Paddington). She is a woman who is often mysterious and icy on screen. I think she was a poor choice for the role, and she hasn’t been given the script or director to suggest she can overcome this initial belief.
The screenwriter, Arash Amel, has been very public about what he thinks of the film (I suggest reading his livetweeting of the broadcast), but no matter how the film was changed, he still wrote some laughably-bad dialogue. His script was also the focus of claims by the family and Weinstein of fictionalizing history, so I can’t claim Amel is not partially responsible for the mess of a movie we have. But I will also say that most of the blame seems to be Dahan’s directorial choices. The movie looks terrible. Every single scene has a filter and glow which is obnoxious and ultimately seems to have no artistic intention. Why is the entire screen glowing? And why does the entire film seem to have annoying score? And why are there so many references to Hitchcock movies if we never get to see Kelly in Hollywood? I JUST DON’T KNOW!
The fact is, this is one of the few times I wanted more biopic stuff, because there is a lot of talk of this being a real-life fairytale and of her work in Hollywood, which we never see. Prince Rainier (Tim Roth) isn’t charming at all, and there is no reason she would have fallen in love with him except for his status. Kelly isn’t presented as someone lovable or warm or fun, just kind of shrill and depressed and scared. As for the other cast members, I don’t really know who Paz Vega, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, or Milo Ventimiglia are supposed to be playing, which suggests a lot was cut for the sake of showing slow, glowing scenery.
I’ll never know why people thought this movie was a good idea, or what the theme of the movie that sold the movie could have been. But I completely understand the hatred (7% on Rotten Tomatoes) critics had for this movie. This movie deserved to die, and Grace Kelly deserves a much better movie.
Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.
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