The Weinstein Company avoided any of the expected controversy at the Grace Of Monaco press conference after the first Cannes screening of the movie earlier today when it put the word out that a deal had been reached and they would be releasing the film in the U.S. (Gaumont is releasing in France later this week) after threatening to walk away. (At one point I heard they were even thinking about trying to sell it to Lifetime.) In fact the only reference to the distribution controversy came from a terse reply to a question posed to director Olivier Dahan, who now was pleased with the way it has all worked out. Speaking in French (for other questions he answered in English), he said, “Harvey will use this version of the film. If there are any changes we will do them together. There is no dispute. It is all resolved and I am happy with the whole situation,” he said.
What he probably wasn’t happy with were some of the absolutely scathing reviews that appeared even before this morning’s first press screening. But critics seemed to be gunning for this one as soon as it was announced for the high-profile opening-night slot of the 67th Cannes Film Festival, which seems a little unfair. In addition to a terrific and credible turn from Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly, Dahan’s portrait of a movie star-turned-princess caught up in a lifestyle change for which she was ill-prepared and now full of self-doubt is a good-looking film that doesn’t purport to be anything other than a piece of fiction based on real events (there’s a disclaimer right at the film’s start to that effect). “Almost everything is true though. I twisted reality just a little bit without really twisting it. It’s all based on historical fact. What I’ve tried to do is to detect the heart of things,” Dahan said. This may be more of an audience film than one aimed at critics. It certainly fulfilled the glamour requirements on the red carpet as tonight’s official kickoff to the festival.
For Kidman taking on a iconic public figure like this is typical of her recent career moves. She likes to take risks. “It was such a great opportunity. I think in my whole career I have been looking for things that put me on a high wire. And this was one of those roles,” she said. No doubt about that. And she added she was not happy that Monaco’s royal family heirs have been so vocal about their displeasure with this portrayal of their mother. “Obviously I feel sad. I think the film has no malice towards the family or towards Grace or Rainier (played by Tim Roth). It’s fictionalized. We’ve said that. It’s not a biopic. It’s the essence of truth but with a lot of things you take dramatic license at times. I understand also because of them being their mother and father. And I understand the protection of the privacy of their mother and father. It’s awkward. It is what it is. But I say that with respect and I want them to know that the performance was done with love. And ultimately if they ever did see it, they would see there was an enormous amount of affection for both their parents and their love story,” she said.
With this film Kidman joins a unique club of Oscar-winning Best Actresses playing another Oscar winning Best Actress. Kidman won for The Hours (another real life role) while Kelly won in 1954 for The Country Girl. Previously Faye Dunaway (Network) took a similarly controversial role when she played Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce) in 1981′a Mommie Dearest. And two -time winner Glenda Jackson (Women In Love, A Touch Of Class) played Patricia Neal (Hud) in the TV movie, The Patricia Neal Story that same year. Cate Blanchett won a supporting Oscar in 2005 for playing Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator but the stakes were higher for Kidman and the others. It’s risky business indeed for a high profile star to take on another of equal wattage. Interestingly none of these films were standard biopics which is likely what attracted these Oscar winners in the first place. Mommie Dearest focused on a very unflattering , personal side of Crawford and encountered the slings and arrows of critics for its over- the- top approach, while the Neal story focused mainly on her recovery from the near-death series of strokes shortly after winning her Oscar. Grace Of Monaco is exactly what the title says. It’s a look at an Oscar winning actress who gives it all up to become a member of a Royal Family. The film in many scenes really shows her taking it on as she might another film role, but it would become the performance of her life. Much of it deals with her desire to accept Alfred Hitchcock’s offer in 1962 to return to the screen in Marnie, and the internal and external conflict that decision causes in Monaco and with her husband. Ultimately she didn’t do it and the role went to Tippi Hedren. Interestingly the whole Marnie experience was also recently portrayed in the HBO movie, The Girl, a movie not savaged as much as this one , so far at least.
For my money the film’s most effective scene has a suddenly insecure Kelly rehearsing lines of dialogue from Marnie in front of a mirror. It’s bravura acting by Kidman and she knew the irony of the scene. “Inevitably if you’re a creative person and you have a passion, which Grace did, there’s a pull towards what you used to do . As much as you say ‘I can walk away from all of this’, the reality of walking away from it is very different to the idea of it and I think that’s what is interesting . Although Hitchcock didn’t go to Monaco himself (as portrayed in the film) he did call her, he did offer her money and she wanted to do it. The scene where she’s rehearsing with the script is really interesting. I’ve done that. where you go ‘oh my gosh can I still act? Can I still say the line? I’m terrible. I’m trying to feel it. I’m trying to understand this again’ , and at the same time I’m reading dialogue from Marnie and imagining Grace doing Marnie and then imagining myself doing Marnie. As Olivier said there’s so many layers to this when an actress is playing an actress – and I have similarities in my life to some of the things that happened to Grace,” she said.
Kidman said she spent five months researching the role before cameras rolled and noted that she hadn’t seen , until then, Kelly’s Oscar winner The Country Girl but had seen all the Hitchcock pictures they did together ( To Catch A Thief, Dial M For Murder, Rear Window) with Rear Window being her favorite of all Kelly’s films , not a long list by the way. Kidman also was surprisingly frank about her own life and the way she balances personal and professional , and the subject of her own Oscar win in 2002 came up. Like Kelly did, she said she could easily give up acting for love but hasn’t had to do it. “I wouldn’t even think twice about it. I would hope there’s some other things I could do.I would find something else to do. I think love is the core emotion, and without that, and I have existed without that, it’s a very empty life. When I won the Oscar I went home and I didn’t have that in my life and that was the most intensely lonely period of my life. Strangely for me the greatest highs have coincided with the greatest lows. My professional highs have happened when I had personal lows. I’m hoping one day I can have a professional high and a personal high,” she said.
As for the above-mentioned Harvey Weinstein he is expected to hit town in the next couple of days and in fact will be presiding over The Weinstein Company’s now-annual press party Friday touting their upcoming slate, and , no doubt, Oscar hopefuls. Ironically the big star guest of honor last year was Kidman, then a Jury Member, who came to tout Grace Of Monaco which looked then to be one of TWC’s big awards players in 2013. Things didn’t actually go as planned. What a difference a year makes.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.