October 25 2006: As soon as we heard that Sofia Coppola directed MARIE ANTOINETTE we knew we had to see it. Despite the generally luke-warm (or downright bad) buzz, Coppola is a filmmaker definitely worth following. In her third feature film the Oscar® winning director brings to the screen a fresh view of the life of France’s legendary teenage queen. Married to Louis XVI at the age of 14, the naïve Marie Antoinette instantly becomes a major player in the turbulent history of late 18th century France.
In her effort not to make a dry, period film, Coppola re-imagines Marie Antoinette and the entire court of Versailles through the lens of popular culture. Coppola tries to create a story of adolescent angst that transcends its time. Despite the fact that it is often a flawed attempt, this teen-centric view is certainly unique.
The main reason to catch a screening of this film is to see that the life of a teenage girl is fairly universal, whether she’s the future queen of France, a royal courtesan or a high school girl rebelling against convention. Kirsten Dunst stars as the young princess who comes of age with the same energy and angst shared by most teenage girls. Marie Antoinette may have been a public figure but that didn’t diminish her teen spirit.
She loved to party and have fun. She loved style and fashion and shoes (especially shoes). She loved to indulge. She wanted to pick her own friends. She didn’t want the responsibility of adulthood and she hated the formality of the palace Versailles and the extreme etiquette. And through it all, both she and her husband Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) were tentative teens struggling to find themselves.
If you think this picture is going to replace a history class, forget it. The film is not particularly informative or detailed about the actual politics of the period. That’s because Coppola keeps us entirely within Marie’s world. And Marie’s world is contained within Versailles, which shuts out all external reality. Instead of a Cliff Notes version of the French Revolution, this is the story of an innocent young girl, transformed into her era’s version of a hipster fashionista, who gets in way over (and ultimately loses) her head.
In true Coppola fashion, this film does not have the expected look of the period. Rather than royal blues and burgundies, it’s a pastel bubble reminiscent of cotton candy. Same goes for the score. The soundtrack is a post-punk-pre-new-romantic-rock opera odyssey with some 18th century influences. It’s like a great mixtape with an eclectic line-up including tracks from The Cure, Siouxsie and The Banshees, The Strokes, and more. Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” accompanies a signature sequence that stands completely on it’s own. Be sure to check out the Soundtrack.
The daring soundtrack and lavish imagery achieve the desired effect – this is no ordinary period drama – but style takes precedence over plot and character development and those are necessary ingredients for any successful film. For all its prettiness, Marie Antoinette is also painfully dull for long stretches. Coppola may have failed here, but her aesthetic instincts remain strong. While most people may be bored silly by this film, I enjoyed the intent and visual style. What would you do if you were a teenage queen? j.s.
MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006)
PG-13, for sexual content, partial nudity and innuendo.
Dramas, Biography, Drama, Royalty
The Official Marie Antoinette Site