Film focuses on Kelly's struggles in princess role

Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly in "Grace of Monaco." Olivier Dahan's film portrays her agonizing over turning down the lead in Alfred Hitchcock's "Marnie."
Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly in "Grace of Monaco." Olivier Dahan's film portrays her agonizing over turning down the lead in Alfred Hitchcock's "Marnie." (DAVID KOSKAS)
Posted: May 16, 2014

CANNES, France - Eyebrows go up when a film like Grace of Monaco, which opened the 67th Cannes film festival Wednesday night, starts with the descriptor, "A fictional account inspired by real events."

It's an odd defensive crouch for a movie about an Irish German Catholic girl who ranks as the number-one Philadelphia blowout of all time, trading in life as the daughter of well-heeled contractor Jack Kelly for not one fairy tale, but two: Hollywood star, and princess of all she surveyed in the tiny principality of Monaco, wedged on a rock between France and Italy.

Olivier Dahan's new film, written by Arash Amel and starring Nicole Kidman, frames only a few short years in the early 1960s, when Grace Kelly was Her Serene Highness.

Many films open these days by reeling back to some formative childhood incident that was predictive of one's later status as a world-beater, but there's none of that in Grace of Monaco. It's just the clear-eyed, clean lines of Kidman, herself the daughter of Aussie academics, as Grace struggling to play a harder role than she did for Hitchcock in Dial M for Murder with Ray Milland, or Rear Window with Jimmy Stewart, or To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant.

Dahan, who directed La Vie en Rose in 2007, does two things with Kelly's screen career. He re-creates the final shot of a gleaming girl in the champagne-colored Mercedes 190 SL roadster convertible in High Society - her last film, at age 26 - to give a flavor of how satisfying, yet empty it was to be applauded for smiling at the camera and maybe giving regular Joes out there something to live for.

He also has Hitch, played by Roger Ashton Griffiths, drop by the palace in Monaco with the script for Marnie. Time to go back to work, he tells Grace, by then miserable in her marriage. Dahan's film recounts her agony over not fleeing her soured fairy tale and turning down a part that would go to Tippi Hedren. Should she kiss another man on film, all those Monegasques who already disapproved of her American ways would be sufficiently scandalized to join France.

In Grace of Monaco, Dahan's project is not just to grow Grace up, but also to tease out the idea that she writes her own best part: the rescue of the principality itself. This is a Grace whom Dahan means to lionize. Ultimately, she's the superhero in pearls who sniffs out a palace plot in the royal family and outfoxes even the French lion of WWII, Charles de Gaulle, who means to topple Rainier and annex the territory. In Grace of Monaco, the women have the bigger vision.

Philadelphia comes in for only a few insults in all of this. Grace speaks her mind about politics at a party, and Rainier, played by Tim Roth, who does not easily suggest royalty, later does a bit of eye-rolling in the privacy of the royal chambers. No more of that, he pleads, while Grace - not yet capable of acting strategically - goes into American default mode about women speaking their minds, setting a good example for their kids, Albert and Caroline. A beat later, the French minister who has come to demand that taxes be paid to the Elysee Palace rebukes Rainier as an undisciplined fool for marrying "the daughter of a Philadelphia bricklayer."

It's been all over the news that Harvey Weinstein is unhappy with this Grace of Monaco, which the Weinstein Company owns for U.S. distribution. A couple of weeks ago, he reportedly wanted to walk away from the film, unless Dahan cut it his way.

Cannes has the next 12 days to prove itself. Right now, the hottest hunch on the Boulevard de la Croisette is another film with Philly ties: Foxcatcher, by Bennett Miller. It concerns the psychopathic heir John Eleuthère du Pont's tortured relationship with Mark Schultz and the murder of his brother, former Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz, at du Pont's Delaware County estate.

Past Palme d'Or winners are also slugging it out in the competition. They include British masters Mike Leigh ( Mr. Turner) and Ken Loach ( Jimmy's Hall), France's Michel Hazanavicius ( The Search), and the Dardenne brothers of Belgium ( Two Days, One Night).

And let's not forget Jean-Luc Godard, sure to enthrall aesthetes with Goodbye to Language, while Tommy Lee Jones brings The Homesman to France, also panning for gold.

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