“It’s traditional for Cannes to start with something spectacular,” begins the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “This is certainly no exception. It is film so awe-inspiringly wooden that it is basically a fire-risk…. Grace of Monaco is a stately and swooning homage to Princess Grace, formerly Grace Kelly, focusing on her alleged courage in keeping plucky little Monaco safe for tax-avoiding billionaires. This was during its supremely parochial and uninteresting face-off with Charles De Gaulle in 1962, who wanted to absorb the principality and its monies into France’s national bosom. So can Grace, by finally sacrificing her movie career on the altar of this cockamamie Ruritanian state, and flaunting her martyred couture loveliness, win the respect of the Monégasque folk and even the grumpy old Général himself? The resulting film about this fantastically boring crisis is like a 104-minute Chanel ad, only without the subtlety and depth.”
If the premise “doesn’t sound like the most perilous of scenarios, then director Olivier Dahan, best known for the Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose, and writer Arash Amel totally fail to convince us otherwise,” writes Time Out‘s Dave Calhoun. “Their soft-focus, sun-drenched and clunky drama gives us a parade of pantomime villains, dreary platitudes about love and duty, overbearing costumes and endless establishing shots of the rocky Riviera outcrop where this limp-wristed soap opera unfolds. [Nicole] Kidman‘s breathless, blank performance does little to add life or credibility to a script that, looking on the bright side, might have audiences giggling for years to come.”
“Grace of Monaco arrives in Cannes trailing months of bad publicity,” notes Stephen Dalton at the Hollywood Reporter. “The royal family in nearby Monaco have attacked Dahan’s deluxe biopic for inaccuracies in its depiction of their late parents, canceling their usual attendance at the festival. More damningly, the movie has been virtually disowned by its U.S. distributor The Weinstein Co., with Harvey Weinstein threatening not to release the current European edit. Even before the Cannes critics got their teeth into it, the film’s commercial prospects seemed decidedly shaky. Now, after tasting this stale wedding cake of pomp and privilege, it is hard to disagree with Weinstein’s harsh verdict.”
Fionnuala Halligan for Screen Daily: “A schmaltzy, soft-focus rear-end to last year’s car crash biopic Diana, Grace of Monaco is puzzlingly misjudged, a minor royal Euro-pudding which lands awkwardly in sub-Roman Holiday territory amidst a product placement blitz of diamonds and up-dos, chandeliers and yachts, soft-focus close-ups and bleachy Riviera hues.”
“Porcelain goddess credentials aside, Kidman’s not an especially logical choice to play Grace Kelly,” writes Guy Lodge at In Contention. “[S]he’s a nervily intuitive performer where Kelly was a malleably obliging one, a contrast never more obvious than in one contrived scene that sees her privately rehearsing scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie in a shrill register that resembles neither star’s customary style. A smart film would make a virtue of this apparent miscasting, using Kidman’s hard intensity to delineate the non-fairytale Grace to which onlookers have never been privy. Grace of Monaco is not, to put it gently, a smart film.”
Grace of Monaco (Dahan): 33. A non-hack might’ve done something interesting w/ idea that “Princess of Monaco” was Kelly’s greatest role.
— Mike D’Angelo (@gemko) May 14, 2014
Updates: “Grace is portrayed as unhappy wife to Tim Roth’s oddball Prince Rainer, cutely called Ray,” notes Peter Labuza at the Film Stage. “The biggest problem with Grace of Monaco is that it’s essentially built on inaction. Grace doesn’t know what to do, Ray doesn’t know what to do, so everyone sits and stands talking about how they are not doing anything. Kidman’s best performances (Dogville, Eyes Wide Shut) have centered around her shyness and quietness, creating a constant desire to look closer, but here she seems stale and nothing about this iconic star capitalizes on the magnetism Kelly brought to roles in Rear Window and Mogambo.”
For the Playlist‘s Oliver Lyttelton, “even by the standards of recent Royal biopics W.E. and Diana, it’s something of a disaster: rarely competent, unintentionally hilarious and borderline reprehensible in both its politics and its take on gender roles.”
And, oh my goodness: “One shot is a lumpen redo of the theater shot in Jonathan Glazer’s Birth,” notes the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin, “right down to the opera music—an all-time-great Kidman moment, and an all-time-great close-up in cinema…. You can sense what Dahan’s aiming at: by introducing the specter of Hitch early on, he lays out Grace’s existence as a kind of lived-in Hitchcock thriller: the Prince’s Palace standing in for Manderlay, and Parker Posey’s creepy royal attaché, Madge, as a Mrs. Danvers-by-proxy. But the acting is so heightened, and the script so thoroughly awful, that Dahan’s idea—his big and seemingly only one—can’t begin to stick.”
The main Cannes competition has started: to write the bitchiest possible review of GRACE OF MONACO. Believe me, it deserves them all.
— Tim Robey (@trim_obey) May 14, 2014
Meantime, “the Weinstein Co. is about to sign a new deal to retain the U.S. distribution rights,” report Ramin Settodeh and Peter Debruge for Variety, where Scott Foundas writes: “Handsomely produced but as dramatically inert as star Nicole Kidman’s frigid cheek muscles, Dahan’s strained bid to recapture the critical and commercial success of his smash Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en rose is the sort of misbegotten venture no amount of clever re-editing could hope to improve.”
For Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn, “Grace of Monaco plays like fragments of an uncompleted biopic that’s been art directed within an inch of its life.”
“From Parker Posey’s panto baddie to the drunken nostril-fixated camerawork, Grace of Monaco is shaping up to go down as one of the worst films to ever play at the Cannes film festival,” writes the Guardian‘s Catherine Shoard. But “how does Gracie stand up when stood next to other turkeys to have been roasted in the Riviera sun?” A shortlist follows.
“Often silly but never vivacious, Grace of Monaco fails as either a stately drama of the BBC provenance or an entertainingly trashy tell-all,” finds Time‘s Richard Corliss.
Updates, 5/15: “In the 20-odd years I’ve been coming here,” writes Jonathan Romney for Sight & Sound, “I’ve seen opening-night films that fall roughly into three types. First, despite what legend maintains, there are the good, which may not always be the glitzy: among them, over the last two decades: The Hudsucker Proxy, Up, Moonrise Kingdom and Patrice Leconte’s Ridicule…. Then there’s the Dodgy category: films that aren’t good, exactly, but at least earn their way because people are genuinely curious to see them, that smack authentically of prestige, or that somehow capture the mood of Festival sparkle…. Finally, there are the just plain bad – the teeth-grindingly, what-were-they-thinking bad…. Instantly taking its place among the baddest of the bad comes this year’s Grace of Monaco.”
“You could accuse the film of pandering to a conservative vision of the patriarch breadwinner family set-up, though that would infer that Dahan was a director capable of possessing such filmmaking fundamentals as vision,” writes David Jenkins at Little White Lies. “Worse than a film that pedals propaganda of any stripe is one that does so without realizing it. And even worse, one that does so and hopes its audience will be too dazzled by the plunging necklines and precipitous piles of Cartier swag to notice.”
“The tragedy of Grace of Monaco lies purely in Dahan’s direction: He just doesn’t know what to do with actors.” The Voice‘s Stephanie Zacharek: “Is it shallow to want to see gorgeous clothes in the movies? I don’t think so, unless we’ve somehow brainwashed ourselves out of responding to beauty in the movies altogether. With Grace of Monaco, costume designer Gigi Lepage has done everything right, dressing Kidman in an assortment of buttery tweed suits, broad-brimmed straw hats that hit the sweet spot between being tasteful and playful, and trousers that look to be made of whispery wool. (It doesn’t hurt that Grace of Monaco has been beautifully shot, in posh, creamy tones, by Eric Gaultier, who often works with Olivier Assayas and Arnaud Desplechin.)”
“Grace of Monaco is forgivable in the shorthand approach of its superficiality, but unforgivable in the weight of its relentless clichés,” finds Barbara Scharres, dispatching to RogerEbert.com.
Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema: “If one doesn’t chuckle at the rather unaware pretension at Grace Kelly’s quote used to open the film (‘the ides of my life as a fairytale is itself a fairytale’) the proclamation of ‘I am Monaco’ in the final throes of her impassioned words should give you a better glimpse of the grandiose, overblown flair everyone’s going for.”
But lo, the Independent‘s Geoffrey Macnab has come to the defense of Grace! “Dahan seems as much inspired by Max Ophüls and MGM melodramas as by Hello Magazine or Paris Match.”
Dahan “has no clue how to approach this daft collision of Hollywood glamor and a political game of chicken, and winds up just trying everything he can think of, creating a succession of inept mini-films,” writes Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve.
The AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd finds that “the vitriol some have spat at this Peter Morgan-ish trifle seems out of proportion with the film’s very ordinary badness. Would Grace of Monaco (Grade: C) look as terrible anywhere but at Cannes, the world’s most prestigious film festival?”
Update, 5/18: “Kidman isn’t bad,” argues Wesley Morris at Grantland. “She’s actually too good. As big a star as Kelly and a much better actress, she overwhelms the part. She never quite gets Kelly’s delicacy. Kelly’s strength appears to be what Kidman admires, so that’s what Kidman is playing—not a starlet in an unhappy marriage. Been there, done that, I suppose…. But you understand why this is the movie that opens the festival. The Atlantic quotes Frémaux as saying that ‘there is no good Cannes Film Festival without Nicole Kidman.’ It’s a standing invitation that doesn’t even require her to be in a good movie!”