Year Released: 2006
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 123 minutes
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Marie Antoinette was born Maria Antonia in 1755, the daughter of Austrian Emperor Francis I. At 14, she was married off to Louis XVI of France to preserve that country’s shaky alliance with Austria. She’s generally remembered for her extravagance in the years leading up to the French Revolution (as well as the apocryphal cake eating quote), but recent biographies have attempted to ameliorate her poor reputation by focusing on the courage she displayed following the Revolution and the royal family’s imprisonment. Given that, it’s a tad mystifying that writer/director Sofia Coppola would choose to set “Marie Antoinette” largely during the period when the young queen was a legitimate flake.
Coppola, arguably the most successful living member of the Lucky Sperm Club, brings us an unimaginative perspective on the girl’s life. Concentrating on the years between her marriage and the outbreak of the Revolution, “Marie Antoinette” doesn’t really do anything to broaden our knowledge of the titular character or even make her more accessible. As Marie (Kirsten Dunst) comes to realize her new husband (Jason Schwartzman at his most soporific) is either unwilling/incapable of impregnating her (the problem is never explained, but a pep talk from Marie’s brother seems to set things right), she mostly contents herself with regal shopping sprees (shoes, wigs, villages) and flitting about with her ladies-in-waiting. One early opportunity to humanize her by suggesting she may befriend the old king’s consort (a stunt-casted Asia Argento) comes to nothing when she makes a show of being nice, then mocks the woman behind her back.
Her attitude and outlook change when she has children, but who cares at that point? She never takes her mother’s advice about winning the French over and doesn’t show any compassion for the plight of the people until five years into her reign, so why should we concern ourselves if the dingbat gets the chop? She should be forgiven for being willfully naïve about politics and money? Better rulers have died for less.
Not that the script offers much clarity, of course. Coppola’s direction is positively Malick-ian on occasion, only without that director’s sense of scale or skill. Whole scenes linger on the palace’s impressive topiary, while Marie and her court run barefoot through the grass. Yawn. Without daddy’s money backing up her efforts, Coppola’s emaciated screenplay would still be moldering on her hard drive as the author worked the 10-4 shift at the Starbucks on Figueroa.
I imagine the pitch conversation going something like this:
Sofia Coppola: Daddy, I want to make a movie about Marie Antoinette.
Francis Ford Coppola: Sure, you fooled enough people with that one you shot in Japan.
SC: It’s set in France.
FFC: I don’t know, pumpkin. The French government is pretty wary of letting filmmakers in there.
SC: But I wanna shoot in Versailles!
FFC: All right, all right…calm down. Jesus, I’ll probably have to cast that Schwartzman cousin of yours as well.
Please don’t mistake the brief scenes showing Louis XVI agreeing to aid the Americans against the British (erroneously implying France’s support was the primary cause of their own Revolution) for some sort of political commentary, “Marie Antoinette” is nothing more than Coppola’s grown-up version of “playing Barbies.” Versailles serves as her Malibu Dream House, while Dunst and company set new records for the sheer tonnage of costuming changes. Indeed, most scenes are little more than excuses to cram as many extras into as many period outfits as possible. Desserts are lovingly photographed, while trivialities like plot and dialogue are largely ignored, but why worry about such things when we can have another bouncy montage of the adolescent queen trying on shoes? Only Rip Torn, playing Louis XV as a randy goat-boy, rises above the morass.
Much ado was made about Coppola’s inappropriate use of 80s New Wave tunes in the soundtrack, but these are only evident during that stretch of time when Marie settles into her party girl mode (which includes, historical accuracy be damned, shtupping a Swedish army officer), and some powder blue Converse All-Stars are also visible during one scene. Quite honestly, had Coppola decided to stick with such anachronisms throughout the bulk of the film, it would’ve been light years ahead of the half-assed end product we have here.
Reports of boos at the film’s debut at Cannes are more understandable now, not because “Marie Antoinette” is an inaccurate or indifferent look at French history (it is), but because it’s self-indulgent shit. Booing – and beheading – are too good for it.
Posted on October 22, 2006 in Reviews by Pete Vonder Haar
If you liked this article then you may also like the following Film Threat articles:
- MARIE ANTOINETTE
- LOSE YOUR HEAD FOR “MARIE ANTOINETTE” TRAILER
- LET THEM EAT…
- FILM THREAT’S “SOMEWHERE” CONTEST
- COPPOLA’S LIGHTER HEART
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