Nicole Kidman is coming to TV.
We don't mean her upcoming HBO series with Reese Witherspoon and David E. Kelley. On Monday at 9/8c, her film Grace of Monaco, in which she plays actress-turned-Princess of Monaco Grace Kelly, will quietly premiere on Lifetime. Yes, Nicole Kidman is in a Lifetime movie. But not just any Lifetime movie. Grace of Monaco was never supposed to share the same home that gave us Liz & Dick.
The biopic had much bigger aspirations after it was filmed in late 2012. Backed by kingmaker Harvey Weinstein on a 2011 Black List script by Arash Amel, Grace was targeting Oscar glory. On paper, it checks all the marks for Oscar prestige pic: Oscar-winning A-lister plays a fellow Oscar-winning glamour queen who left Hollywood to marry a European prince only to be wholly unsatisfied. There's family strife and betrayal, a major political dispute and, eventually, Kelly's tragic death in a car accident in 1982. French director Olivier Dahan also had some cachet, having directed Marion Cotillard to an Oscar in (the highly polarizing) La Vie en Rose.
So how did it all go wrong? It's a downward spiral worthy of its own movie.
January 2013: An omen of the ordeal to come, shortly after production wrapped, the children of Kelly and Prince Rainier III blast the "purely fictional" script for inaccuracies and claim that their "numerous requests for changes" were ignored. "Therefore, the royal family wishes to stress that this film in no way constitutes a biopic," they say in a statement.
March 2013: Unbowed, Weinstein's The Weinstein Company officially comes on board as a U.S. distributor and sets a Dec. 27 release date, which is later moved up to an even more Oscar-friendly Nov. 27. Weinstein teases the film at Cannes in May.
September 2013: Weinstein pushes Grace back to March 14, 2014, telling press at the Zurich International Film Festival that the film "just wasn't finished," so he wouldn't have time to launch a proper Oscar campaign, but promises a big awards push the following year. "I think it's going to be even bigger than My Week with Marilyn," he says, referring to his 2011 Marilyn Monroe film that earned Michelle Williams an Oscar nod. Famous last words.
October 2013: Dahan doesn't get the memo on the party line. Actually, he just doesn't give a damn. In an interview with French newspaper Liberation, Dahan says that Weinstein is lying, the film is finished, and they are clashing over edits (Weinstein's showbiz nickname: Harvey Scissorhands). "It's right to struggle, but when you confront an American distributor like Weinstein, not to name names, there is not much you can do," Dahan says. "Either you say 'Go figure it out with your pile of sh--' or you brace yourself so the blackmail isn't as violent. ... There are two versions of the film for now: mine and his ... which I find catastrophic. ... It's got hardly anything to do with the film. It's only about the money, the release strategy, millions of dollars and stuff like that."
December 2013: Kidman graces (no pun intended) the cover of Vanity Fair, accompanied with an in-depth interview, that was clearly orchestrated (months earlier, obviously) to support her now-obsolete Oscar campaign.
April 2014: Less than two weeks before its Cannes debut, Weinstein is still at odds with Dahan over the final cut and reportedly considers backing out as a U.S. distributor completely. He ultimately renegotiates the rights deal for $3 million rather than the original $5 million he offered to pay the year prior. Under the deal, Dahan's version will be the final cut that will premiere at Cannes and any further changes must be mutually agreed upon between the two.
May 2014: Grace gets derided after it premieres at Cannes and opens overseas. Dahan tells The Guardian that he doesn't read the critics, and hopes he and Weinstein can now collaborate on a cut for the U.S. Weinstein and Amel are both MIA at the Cannes premiere, with the former being in Jordan on what he says was a long-planned refugee humanitarian trip. Weinstein later addresses the royal family's issues with the film. "They have a legitimate problem with the movie. They actually do. In the movie there is a scene, if it were in the film, would go a long way to making peace up there," he says. "There's a lot more to do with that incident than is portrayed, I think, in the film. I haven't seen the final thing, but I do know there's a scene in the script." He does not ever set a new U.S. release date.
January 2015: While stumping for his big Oscar player The Imitation Game, Weinstein is asked by Deadline about Grace's fate. "Well, you'll probably see it, either in a small theatrical release or on TV afterwards, but this is what happened," he says. "The script we signed on for was like The King's Speech, with the big moment where Princess Grace steps up. That is what attracted Nicole." He pins it all on Dahan for turning the embattled film into a "Hitchcock movie like a paean to Vertigo, which ironically Grace wasn't in," and for refusing to make changes. "That movie would have been helped greatly by the writer's cut of the film and it's something that people should see someday," Weinstein says. "It wasn't a transformative movie but it was a damn entertaining one. But Olivier Dahan wanted to do what Olivier wanted to do."
April 2015: Lifetime announces the movie will bow on May 25, after which Amel says he'll live-tweet the premiere of the "beautiful disaster" and drops copious amounts of shade:
I'm just glad the director's vision found its rightful home.— Arash Amel (@arashamel) April 7, 2015
It's funny because it's true. Yet another reminder that A-list hype doesn't always yield A-list results, Grace of Monaco should have never been in the Oscar conversation in the first place, which probably says more about Weinstein's reputation than anything. Wooden and contrived, it's a clunky melodrama that thinks it's important, but has no idea it's a comedy. It's hard to see how any other version would be so much better that it would collect Oscars, let alone for Kelly's family to be pleased. Behind the Vaseline-smeared cinematography are just layers of heavy-handed fairy-tale motifs, cringe-worthy dialogue, an ungodly overbearing score and pore-level shots of Kidman's face that confirms Dahan is a graduate of The Tom Hooper Les Miserables School of Unnecessary Close-Ups.
Kidman is predictably Hitchcock-blonde glamorous, but sadly lifeless as Kelly, who's torn between returning to Hollywood for Hitch's Marnie and her new royal duties to Monaco and hotheaded Rainier (Tim Roth). Thank goodness her confidante priest (Frank Langella) hooks her up with a fairy godfather count (Derek Jacobi), who gives her a master class in How to Be a Princess 101. Seriously — she has to act out cue card emotions like "anger," arrogance" and "trust." Only then can she use her regal ways and mad oratory skills to stop a French invasion over its taxation blockade.
Grace of Monaco is not a completely unwatchable catastrophe, just offensively mediocre. It doesn't belong at the Oscars or the Emmys, where it's now eligible, but it's not high camp enough to belong on Lifetime either. It does, however, belong somewhere because it's too much of a so-bad-it's-almost-good hot mess to never be seen. And besides:
Watch the Grace of Monaco trailer below. Grace of Monaco premieres Monday at 9/8c on Lifetime.