J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Grace of Monaco: From Cannes to Lifetime

Alfred Hitchcock very nearly lured Princess Grace out of retirement to star in Marnie. He wasn’t known as “the master of suspense” for nothing. Unfortunately, her return to the silver screen was scuttled by the French campaign to dominate the tiny principality of Monaco. Once again, French saber-rattling ruined things for the rest of us. Fortunately, the former Grace Kelly will stand tall in her Cartier diamonds, facing down threats to her adopted home’s sovereignty, both foreign and domestic, in Olivier Dahan’s now notorious Grace of Monaco (trailer here), which premieres on Lifetime this Memorial Day, after getting booed off the Croisette at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Rumor has it, Princess Grace’s marriage to Prince Rainier is on the rocks. Of course, tensions with France have not helped much. With the Algerian War hemorrhaging cash, De Gaulle issues the House of Grimaldi an ultimatum: start taxing all the French business re-incorporating in Monaco and turn the proceeds over to France or face a blockade and possibly even an invasion. Unfortunately, Princess Grace’s American habits of speaking her mind and having her own career rock the boat at an inopportune time.

Despite the fissures in her marriage, Her Serene Highness is determined to serve the interests of Monaco. With the help of Rainier’s American Chaplain, Father Francis Tucker, Princess Grace will undergo a crash course in courtly etiquette and assemble her own kitchen cabinet. Frankly, they can hardly do worse than Rainier’s advisors, including the sleazy big-talker, Aristotle Onassis.

It is easy to see why Grace of Monaco crashed and burned at Cannes. In all fairness, the first two thirds play out like a relatively competent TV movie, but the puffed-up self-importance of the third act is almost offensive. This is the sort of film that acts like all the world’s problems can be solved with a heartfelt, ramblingly incoherent speech. Honestly, the supposedly Oscar-baiting climatic address basically boils down to: “Oh Monaco, you’re just so swellaco.” Is that enough to shame De Gaulle into behaving? Did Hitch like blondes?

Of course, gingerish Nicole Kidman is not exactly a classic Hitchcock type, but she is about the only name actress in Hollywood who can play classy convincingly. She is not bad as the reserved but vulnerable Princess. Even though he apparently put on some poundage for the role, Tim Roth is relatively restrained as Rainier. Unfortunately, Roger Ashton-Griffiths and Sir Derek Jacobi go all in for shtick as Hitchcock and decorum guru Count Fernando D’Aillieres. For the first time probably ever, Parker Posey is also boring (or maybe she was just bored) as the Princess’s officious staffer, Madge.

It is sort of entertaining to watch Kidman and Roth glide through the opulent world of 1960s Monaco. Unfortunately, any good will they manage to accrue is undermined by the third act cheesiness. Frankly, Dahan and screenwriter Arash Amel completely miss the film’s most relevant takeaway: high taxation inevitably leads to capital flight. Cinematographer Eric Gautier makes it all look glitzy enough, but there is just no way to recut the laughable climatic speech into a presentable cut with any sort of dramatic credibility. Yet, given all the off-screen notoriety and behind-the-scenes recriminations, it is impossible to avoid a certain morbid curiosity. Those so intrigued should watch Grace of Monaco in all its awkward clunkiness when it airs on Lifetime this Monday (5/25), before Harvey Weinstein locks it away in the old vault for good.

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