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Grace Of Monaco

Year: 2015
Production Co: Stone Angels
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Director: Olivier Dahan
Writer: Arash Amel
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella, Parker Posey

Every now and then a movie comes along that's so universally hated it takes you by surprise when you finally get around to seeing it. Was there some infamous creative skirmish (yes, in this case)? Does everybody just hate that particular actor right now? Was it marketed badly so people were let down?

Nicole Kidman occupies a strange place in stardom, and that goes some way to making Grace of Monaco such a film. After burning very hot and bright early in her career she's settled into a kind of statuesque iciness, seeming to be from another time when stars were more glamourous and more untouchable, making her the perfect actress to play Grace Kelly here. A classic beauty rather than a sexy good time girl (just like Kelly herself), her accent is pretty wobbly throughout the film, but it's honestly hard to pinpoint exactly why critics took so vehemently against it.

It's the early 60s and Kelly finishes the last shot of her last film in Hollywood before moving permanently to Monaco to be with her new husband, Prince Rainier (Tim Roth, constantly smoking and brooding).

Once there, she can't help but feel like a stranger in a strange land, like the rich snobs of the tiny nation will never accept her. Her story parallels a growing crisis where Monaco is quickly going bankrupt and France wants to use its shaky position for a land grab on its riches, and where a blockade threatened by the French government would cut them off not just from diplomatic ties but food.

While Grace fights homesickness, enemies throughout the royal regime and the pull of her former life (in the form of Alfred Hitchcock telling her he's waiting for her to come back, including offering her the lead in Marnie), her stressed husband smokes constantly while meeting with officials in hushed, stately rooms to try and head off the threats from President De Gaulle.

The blockade, when it happens, is a lot more dramatic here than it was in real life (when a few gendarmes strung barbed wire across the highway leading in and out of the country for a few days), and it's up to Grace to defuse the situation by charming the French political class and making her adopted home finally love her thanks to a lavish dinner and a heartfelt speech.

The story invents a fair bit of tension out of events that were never particularly dramatic in real life, but the theme seems to be less about political machinations than it is the story of a woman who – despite misgivings – has committed to a certain life and decides to throw everything she has into it to make it work and accept the destiny she's chosen.

The locations and costumes are lavish and even though the acting was never going to win any awards, the hateful reception is still a mystery. There are some odd visual choices by director Oliver Dahan, like when Grace is issuing another soliloquy of sadness and the camera drifts around her face like a drunk trying to figure out where to focus.

A lot of the anticipation of it being a mess probably came from the behind-the-scenes spat between Dahan and Harvey Weinstein (who apparently took a hedge trimmer to the edit Dahan delivered), but it's still a mystery what people were expecting. It's a melodrama about a princess, not a car chase cop movie with giant robots.

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