Grace of Monaco
Surprisingly, Grace of Monaco arrived at our shores just a few days after its premiere (finally!) at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and after sitting through the 103 minutes film I can understand why it did not garner the accolades that one would expect out of its pedigree. You know there is a problem when the most emotionally resonant moment in the film is when Maria Callas sings "O mio babbino caro".
Olivier Dahan is a good director with a very distinctive voice and vision, and he can get some of the best acting out of his stars - he did give us the award-winning performance of Marion Cotillard in 2007's La Vie En Rose. However, like that movie, this biopic of Princess Grace Kelly lacked depth, which fortunate for Cotillard there was breadth for her to sink into as she explored the psyche of Edith Piaf.
Dahan was failed by Arash Amel's script. Choosing to focus only on a moment in Kelly's life is not wrong but the execution of it was fatally flawed as it did not really allow much character growth. Sure, there is character development and change, but there is no real growth per se. Furthermore, the plotting of the whole narrative made it look as if Kelly herself single-handedly saved Monaco. Even without knowing the exact history, that seemed beyond the realm of plausibility. Well, she did have a bit of help from the Church. The screenplay was essentially so thin and insubstantial that padding was inevitable.
Dahan's penchant for long shots were also shown off here. Sure, that long shot moment in La Vie En Rose may have been the moment that cemented Cotillard's Oscar, but in Grace of Monaco most of them unfortunately could not recapture the powerful moment and it ended up being more unnecessary than useful. The best (long) shot was the opening sequence. That was splendidly done. The slow tease of the camera following the back of this star who seemed so graceful, elegant, and so well-liked by the crew before the reveal that it was actually a Princess. That shot established more character than most of the movie.
That whole montage moment was too jarring. Suddenly the tone shifted (and this was possibly what a Weinstein cut would have looked like) and we had a Evita-Rocky-Pretty Woman mash up.
Then we have Nicole Kidman. Throughout the movie, one word kept coming to mind: resplendent. She was utterly resplendent throughout the movie, and that, unfortunately was a major distraction.
Somehow, when Dahan chose to focus on her closed up she shone more and brighter as an actress, as Grace Kelly. Sadly, Kidman's forehead is the reason why her close-ups are more effective. Whether it had been botox-ed or just pulled back really tightly by her hairstylist, it was too stiff to the point of distraction. You can actually track the passage of time (filming wise) via two distinctive characteristics: the appearance of her glabellar frown lines as well as the evolution of her hair colour from Kelly's blonde to Kidman's natural strawberry shade (which suited her more).
But kudos to Kidman's hair, make-up and costume team. mShe was utterly resplendent (yes, that word again) - those amazing jewels from Cartier definitely helped too.
If Dahan had managed to film Kidman's climatic monologue as a long shot, that could had been Kidman's moment. She did have some strong moments within the show but her acting was not constantly at a high standard. The accent that she chose to adopt for Kelly was also a distraction. Sometimes, beauty can indeed be a boon.
Tim Roth had no chemistry with Kidman so it was hard to buy into their relationship, but his character was so poorly written that I can't totally blame hi. Frank Lagella was practically just another curmudgeonly old man, practically doing it in his sleep. Paz Vega role is too small but it was her lip syncing to Callas that had the most impact, so there was that. Sir Derek Jacobi did steal his scenes though.
In the end, one wonders if Weinstein's cut would have been better. That man knows how to cater to the audience/voters.