Lap of glory turns into walk of shame
It's hard not to feel sorry for Nicole Kidman who is being forced to talk up a turkey in Cannes, writes Julia Molony
Published 18/05/2014 | 02:30
There's a particular kind of exquisite humiliation that comes after submitting to being all trussed up in couture and borrowed diamonds, pushed out in front of the world's media at a film festival, only to discover that what was supposed to be a lap of glory has turned instead into a walk of shame.
So it's hard not to feel sorry for Nicole Kidman in Cannes, stuck in front of the glare of the world's press like a rabbit in the headlights, contractually obliged to go through the motions of trying to talk up a turkey, despite the fact that everyone knows there's no saving the widely panned Grace of Monaco.
Only those critics who are in situ at Cannes have seen the film (the rest of us now unlikely to fork out the price for tickets when it eventually comes to our screens) which opened the festival this year, and enjoyed top billing before the fanfare very quickly went flat. Amongst those who have, the verdict is virtually unanimous. Every aspect of the film has been savaged, the direction, the characterisations, the feeble narrative which is pinned on Grace Kelly's supposed involvement in keeping super-rich Monaco, haven for tax refugees, financially independent from France. And Kidman herself, as not only the films lead but also somehow its figurehead, has become the emblem of its failure.
She's an Oscar-winning actress widely respected for her skills. But as Grace of Monaco she has been, as Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian had it, reduced to "wafting around the palace with dewy eyed features and slightly parted lips which make her look like a grown-up Bambi after a couple of cocktails, suddenly remembering his mother's violent death in the forest."
One can see how, on the surface, casting Kidman to play Kelly, Hollywood actress turned European monarch might have seemed inspired. Physically, they have a porcelain, sculptural kind of beauty in common. Director Olivier Dahan clearly thought that would be enough. He should have known better. Especially since it was he who greenlit the then unknown Marion Cotillard to play Edith Piaf – not because they looked alike but because the bird-like Cotillard was capable of channelling something of the singer's indomitable life force and her enormous spirit into her portrayal.
The common conception of Kidman as a kind of modern-day Kelly is a recent and post-botox phenomenon. Back when she was an upcoming actress with wild red hair and a kind of white-hot ferocity, no one in their right minds would have made the comparison.
Before all the cosmetic interventions; the injections and the fillers and whatever else that changed her face from a living thing into a blank approximation of what it once was, she was famous not for being a serene, Hitchcock blonde, but for something altogether feistier.
After Grace Kelly jettisoned her acting career and threw herself into life as a stateswoman she became, like Kate Middleton, defined by her unflappable composure. The first mistake of this film was to confuse Kidman's botox -induced blankness for Kelly's glacial inscrutability. I haven't seen Grace of Monaco, but in the trailer and in every still, Kidman seems to be reaching for serenity and settling instead for a kind of 'poker up the backside' stiffness.
It's a shame, because Kidman has proven herself time and time again to be a fine actress. But she has fallen down in trying to change her professional persona to fit her new face. At her best, she is pure, unrestrained emotionality; fragile and fine-boned sure, but volatile with it. It's a quality she's brought with great effect to role after role. It's there in the confession scene in Eyes Wide Shut, in which she reveals her unfulfilled sexual fantasies to a greatly shaken Tom Cruise. It's there in the powerful theatre close-up in Birth, and it's what underpins her entire, compelling performance as Isabel Archer in Portrait of a Lady as a woman in retreat from suffocating conventionality, and in thrall to her passionate nature.
Of her portrayal of Grace Kelly she said in a recent interview: "There's an idiosyncratic French feel printed on it. I wanted there to be a living, breathing human being; not just a cut-out figure." Unfortunately, Kidman's desire to cling on to her youth has turned her into a kind of living doll. It's no real surprise then that her performance is plastic.