REMEMBER Diana? Of course you don’t. You were sensible. For the vast majority among you who chose not to suffer through the worst film of last year, Diana was a hilarious attempt to commemorate the final days of the late Princess of Wales by forcing Naomi Watts and Naveen Andrews to commit graphic career seppuku on camera. Helmed by writers whose grasp of inter-human relations seemed grounded in Hello! magazine photo captions, the film was foisted upon an unreceptive public to universal displeasure. I happened to retain my barf bag as a talisman, a commemorative trophy spelling out ‘I survived Diana (but my sides still hurt)’. Thank God too, because here’s Grace of Monaco to make me vomit all over again.
Having opened at Cannes Film Festival to unprecedented levels of scorn, Olivier Dahan’s vulgar and insipid paean to Grace Kelly falls flat on its powdered face at every conceivable turn. Grossly inaccurate, hilariously straight-faced and mawkishly in awe of its dainty subject, the film is a creakingly wooden disaster. Can Nicole Kidman as Nicole Kidman of Monaco protect her nation’s coffers from the greasy palms of Charles de Gaulle? Can she preserve Monaco’s status as a tax-haven for errant billionaires? Will Tim Roth’s Prince Rainier enter a scene sans cigarette and comedy acc-sont? Perhaps the more appropriate question is this: Can you please get the camera out of Nicole’s face, Olivier?
If the intended effect in shoving the lens halfway up his lead actress’ tonsils is one of claustrophobia and confinement, perhaps Dahan might have been better off allowing the film to breathe. Instead, we get leisurely strolls through palace gardens and Monégasque rivieras with the occasional interruption of Parker Posey’s arched nostrils or a jarring, extended close-up on Grace’s face. Presumably we’re supposed to think that something deeply psychologically troubling is transpiring behind Kidman’s vacant, doe-eyed glaze. Nope.
Fortunately for us the film canters along at the frantic pace of an underwater cricket match, so we’re never in danger of waking up and missing something vital. This might well be appropriate given the astonishingly boring nature of the crisis at its heart, but proceedings might have significantly benefited from a fabricated punch-up. Why not? Half the film is complete historical codswallop anyway, why not hurl in some Quaaludes and a car chase? I’d have given anything to see Robert Lindsay’s Citizen Onassis whip out a machine gun while making his weird quips about whale foreskins (don’t ask) – I could have pretended I was watching Scorsese.
While Dahan’s direction is obnoxious and the performances are largely drawn from either vaudeville or pantomime, they’re not the biggest reason for Grace’s failure. That honour goes to Arash Amel’s script, which bizarrely made it onto Hollywood’s prized Black List in 2011. I can’t imagine why – it’s the most leaden, asinine, Mills & Boon cast-off thing I’ve witnessed since… well, Diana. That film pretended to put pampered Royals through the “darkly psychological” wringer too!
Much like Watts’ Di, Kidman puts on her bravest face and bloodshottiest eyes and tries her darn golly best to wrangle something resembling human speech out of this dramatological diarrhoea but, sadly, she comes up short. Upper lip trembling, mascara leaking, she often resembles a rabbit caught in the Monte Carlo headlights; or, more appropriately, a good actress realising, with dawning horror, that she’s the lead star in an absolute turkey. We’re far too busy grappling with clunking lines like “I believe in fairytales” to emotionally invest for a moment in Grace’s role in this facile drivel.
But what can we do when we’re expected to prize the personal interests and fiscal security of fabulously wealthy tax-evaders over their obligation to society? Dahan, when quizzed about his research into his subject, blithely replied, “I dug into my personal life… I always try to talk about myself too.” Wonderful – not only do we have a director egregiously out of touch with modern, economic reality, but we also have a man who has no vested interest in Grace Kelly… directing a film about Grace Kelly. Dahan is already locking sabres with producer Harvey Weinstein over a “pile of s***” alternate cut of the film; not that it matters either way, since no cut of this seismic turd could salvage anything presentable to a human audience. If the director doesn’t care, why should we?
Grace of Monaco is as bad as you’ve heard – if not worse – but unlike its kindred spirit Diana, Dahan’s effort doesn’t share the same sense of laugh-a-minute absurdity. Though it manages to be the shinier of two turds, it’s also better at being plain old boring, and that’s before we even mention its grievously misjudged political acumen, or its historical invalidity, or its haphazard performances etc. etc. Happily, however, neither film is quite as vacuous or infuriating as that horrid Marie Antoinette garbage. Zut alors. At least the costumes look nice.