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"Grace of Monaco," starring Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman, is going straight to Lifetime. Yes, Lifetime, as in the channel responsible for such exciting, intelligent films as "The Cheerleader-Murdering Mother" and "Restless Virgins." What happened?
There's a lot of speculation about how this film, once viewed as a potential Oscar nod, came to be brushed under the made-for-TV rug. Writing for Indiewire, Anne Thompson noted tension between The Weinstein Company and director Olivier Dahan over the final cut. Weinstein's comments point to a hostile working relationship characterized by fights and name-calling (all of which may have eventually led him to stop promoting it and pull ad funding).
There were other signals this film would flop beyond disputes over its cut. The genre seems to be struggling with last year's "Diana," which actually scored one point lower than the abysmal rating "Grace" earned on Rotten Tomatoes (8 and 9 percent, respectively). Both were nearly unanimously panned by critics, which may have signaled too low of a return in taking "Grace" to theaters. "Harvey Weinstein is far less willing these days to throw big marketing dollars into the market when there are no guarantees they will yield a winner," Thompson wrote. Ten or 15 years ago, the simple fact a name like Nicole Kidman was attached to "Grace" would have been enough of a buffer against such a critical reception, at least enough to take the risk at the box office.
You could argue that Kidman's fame has dwindled, that she's made some questionable choices in her career (or that she's just the victim of long-game revenge by Scientologists). Though, imagine it had been preceded by similar genre failures and debuted a decade earlier. Say Weinstein had still battled with the director and it had ended up as "a piece of hagiographic fluff that cobbles together tropes from other recent biopics of famous women," as Jon Frosch described "Grace" in a review for The Atlantic. Coming fresh off an Oscar win, would Kidman's star power have been enough to save "Grace" from a premiere on Lifetime?
These days, even Jennifer "America's Sweetheart" Lawrence doesn't have the pull necessary to promise success. Consider the trajectory of "Serena," which limped into theaters following VOD availability. "If Lawrence’s movie just barely happened, as a theatrical release, and Kidman’s isn't going to," wrote Daniel D'Addario in piece for Time, "what hope is there for anyone else?"
Many factors surrounding both "Grace" and "Serena" (namely that they are bad) contributed to demise. Still, there was a time when A-list actors could guarantee big numbers. But the draw has shifted to content, mainly in the form of franchises. Movies are made for a global market primarily built on the surefire sales of remakes, sequels and prequels. (More than half of the top 25 highest-grossing films of 2014 fall into this category).
Will Smith's "Focus" flop back in March provides another example of the diminished weight carried by the movie star name in Hollywood. Smith, once bankable in everything from rom-coms ("Hitch") to superhero movies ("Hancock"), couldn't move a film like "Focus." "More than ever before, the source material is the star attraction," Kyle Buchanan wrote for Vulture at the time. "Actors have become truly secondary to the power of a strong franchise."
To be clear, dear, celebrity-worshipping public, there will always be movies stars. Just a different kind. (Unfortunately for Michael Bay, it's impossible to make a movie propelled solely by computer-generated robots.) What will change, what is changing, is the force those stars used to hold over the theater. The modern movie star can give a film a bump, though their presence doesn't dictate anything, and few are immune to box office failures.
Middlebrow tends to end with a bit about what we can do to foster change, but this one seems to be out of Nicole Kidman's slim and well-manicured hands. So, sit back,
relax hand over your soul to Optimus Prime and prepare to someday enjoy the Lifetime special "Cheerleader-Murdering Virgins," starring Meryl Streep.
Follow Lauren Duca on Twitter: @laurenduca