It seems that biopics have come to some kind of a fork in the road in deciding whether to place creative license in the life of a notable person. That fork seems to have happened in France at the Cannes Film Festival this year. If you’re familiar with any of the details about the biopic “Grace of Monaco” with Nicole Kidman, you know there’s been brouhaha over the content of the film from the late Princess Grace Kelly’s family. They’ve called the film a complete farce, which is the worst slap in the face for any biopic with an A-list star the helm. After this criticism, the distributor (Harvey Weinstein) pulled it from getting any general release.
Perhaps it was from Nicole Kidman’s pleas that it ended up opening the Cannes Film Festival this year, but out of competition. Based on interviews and production photos, Kidman put her heart and soul into the role of Princess Grace portraying a pivotal moment of her reign in Monaco. Because it only uses the snapshot concept in biopics where it only covers one year of someone’s life, things were taken a bit of out context.
With the lack of faith in the content of “Grace of Monaco”, what’s going to happen to it after it plays Cannes? And has it put a bit of a scarlet letter on the biopic that’s already struggled at times between rationalizing the world of non-fiction with fiction?
Many directors who’ve taken on biopics would likely tell you that it’s one of the most challenging films to make, particularly when people are still alive to argue the content. Perhaps it’s easier to make a biopic when you can take on the life of someone who’s been dead for more than 100 years for the added space of no immediate family being around to protest. In fact, that might be the place where more biopics are going to be made to avoid any issues.
The “Grace of Monaco” debacle no doubt set a small precedent of fear in the filmmaking community about how to continue with biopics in a way that’s acceptable to both the public and the person’s survivors. In some cases, it may be the actual person who’s still alive and their immediate reaction to seeing a fictionalized take on their life. It may mean going straight to a concept that biopics should have gone to in the first place: The absolute truth.
Can Biopics Take On Reality, or Are They Doomed to Creative Invention?
If you’ve ever read behind-the-scenes stories about biopics of old from the 1940s and ’50s, you’ll see some interesting comments from notables who were portrayed. In those days, biopics were frequently made about people were still alive, enabling them to actually see biopic of their life at the premiere. In many cases, they made snide comments to their own loved ones that the biopic was hokum ten times over. From George M. Cohan to Cole Porter, you’ll find it borderline hilarious to read their initial bewildered reactions as a way to place a silly face on Hollywood shying away from anything real then.
Seventy years ago, Hollywood didn’t dare take on the truth about certain notables without needing an adult ratings system 40 years earlier. Even today, though, biopics trump up the vices of notable people just to create drama. What would happen if they took on reality and presented things as they really were rather than sometimes supremely over the top?
Perhaps it’s the fault of screenwriters and directors for not being able to depict real-life situations effectively without boring the viewer. Imagine a biopic about a notable person from decades ago that was filmed in near documentary style or Cinema Verite? We’d finally have a chance to see how someone who lived in a different era actually lived real life rather than portrayed in an affected acting style for the sake of winning Oscars.
With indie films making huge inroads right now, more subtle dialogue done in a conversational way might be seen more often. You have to get the feeling that the biopic may also change, and we’ll be seeing new ones done in a completely different style to escape the old Hollywood conventions that are getting very tired now.
The “Grace of Monaco” debacle may have been that very turning point with perhaps a second chance to fix the mistake that made the change. Why not start over and let Nicole Kidman do a more complete biopic on Grace Kelly? That way, we can get her life in full context rather than one year that won’t mean much to anyone other than those in Monaco.