There’s a point around an hour into the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of No Country For Old Men when Sheriff Ed Tom Bell tells Carla Jean Moss the story of a cattle rancher whose misuse of a pneumatic bolt gun cost him the full use of one of this arms. Carla Jean regards him dubiously across a cafe table and asks if it’s a true story. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell smiles craftily and says, “Well, it’s true that it’s a story.”
Olivier Dahan’s Grace Of Monaco lives by a similar obfuscation of the truth, advising audience members that what they’re about to see is a fictional account from the outset. Only the smile isn’t crafty, but weak. It comes almost as an apology before a single frame of film has been presented, sharp red letters setting out to lower expectations.
Not that expectations need lowering any further. Grace Of Monaco‘s immediately infamous reception at Cannes this year – and it’s subsequent drubbing in the press – have apparently done Dahan’s film considerable damage. I went to a first weekend screening with a standard cinema-going audience. There were less than ten of us. Six of those, I had been informed by a friend on the door, were there because a relative had played one of the extras or something, and they wanted to try to spot them. Hardly Godzilla numbers.
At this stage then, I presume, you’re probably reading this to find out just how bad the film is. How much of a dressing down I’ve got to give Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth and Olivier Dahan for this melodramatic bubble of a movie. And yes, my interest in Grace Of Monaco was piqued by the critical howls. Could this mess be 2014’s so-bad-it’s-good disaster? Something unintentionally fun? Before the press got their teeth bloody, I had simply been ambivalent toward what looked like a so-so biopic of questionable relevance.
Honestly, those first instincts were pretty much on the money. Grace Of Monaco has its moments of abject terribleness (most notably whenever it goes into montage-mode) and the tone is so seriously misjudged that so much of the brow-beating seriousness completely nullifies itself, but overall Dahan’s film isn’t even remarkable enough to be thought of as one of the notably bad films of the year. Hell, Hollywood’s rehashes of RoboCop and the aforementioned Godzilla are far, far worse than this pretty, pointless picture.
Redeeming features are hard to come by. Chiefly, as mentioned elsewhere, those in charge of costumes, make-up and set decor have done their jobs well, while lighting and cinematography are at least competent, if not in the least ambitious. Dahan’s film looks about as good as it should do, even if the aesthetic he’s gone for is that of a forgettable M&S advert.
Where Grace Of Monaco does stumble considerably is in the same areas that brought Godzilla down, funnily enough; an overly serious tone for a concept that shouldn’t have got beyond daydream stage, a script in dire need of some character and a clutch of stiff performances that simply fail to add dimension to these ciphers ambling around Monaco’s luxurious mansions. Okay, Godzilla didn’t feature Monaco’s luxurious mansions… but maybe it should’ve?
In fact maybe Gareth Edwards and Olivier Dahan missed a trick. Both must have surely realised at some point in the development of their films that they were onto turkeys. An amalgamation of these two films that sees Grace Kelly doing battle with a goliath lizard obliterating Monaco’s pristine casinos in 1961 might just’ve been worth admission prices. Just as long as Kelly was more wisely cast.
Alas that preposterous movie doesn’t exist. Instead we have two films which simply struggle to maintain viewers’ interest thanks to some very similar failings. In Dahan’s case it’s a shame as one can imagine that the political mechanics operating between France and Monaco in the early 60’s could have easily made for gripping drama. Here though that tension is fumbled thanks to Dahan’s schizophrenic approach. Grace Of Monaco is too lightweight. It’s a puff piece, a candyfloss movie – something which must’ve been evident from script stage.
While we’re on the subject of Arash Amel’s screenplay, toying with the past this way is hardly a new concept either. Revisionism and cinema go hand in hand, and at least Grace Of Monaco is upfront about it. But if you’re going to play fancifully with the truth, at least have some fun with it. Tarantino killed Hitler after all. That’s a ridiculous and extreme example, but there’s a point behind it. If this film had been produced with even an atom of ambition, or an ounce of levity it might’ve enjoyed more success.
Unfortunately Dahan so earnestly wants his film to be taken seriously that he has drained all enjoyment out of it, save for the occasional moments when Kidman’s regrettable histrionics elicit sniggers from the now-almost-empty aisles.
Simply, if you’re after a kitsch night out, you’ll be disappointed. Grace Of Monaco is a mediocre film that flits with being dull. No more no less. Sorry to disappoint. My vitriol will have to wait for some other unsuspecting movie. For now I could say that the six people sharing my screening who were there to play spot-the-extra applauded gleefully midway through before exiting the movie before it had even ended… but should I? Is it enough to finish this review? Is it ambitious enough? I mean, that could be a true story, right? It’s true that it’s a story…