The story of Marie Antoinette was a story I was not entirely familiar with, and to say I knew more than Marie Antoinette was a one-time queen of France that was executed would be a lie. However, Sofia Coppola’s intentions with Marie Antoinette are not to educate us about the infamous queen, rather than to paint a portrait of a queen and her king who fell into the seats of royalty far too soon and I enjoyed the entire thing.
Coppola experienced rousing success with her previous film Lost in Translation, which took home an Oscar and three Golden Globe Awards and while the majority of the response over Marie Antoinette has been favorable the film has been met with some alternative reactions at various film festivals, namely the obvious, Cannes. Now I am not going to speak for the French because I am not French and, well, I can’t speak for them, but I will say that I believe audiences that don’t like this movie are either bored or they just don’t get what Coppola is trying to do.
With Marie Antoinette Coppola puts history on the backburner and probes deep into the life of Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) and who she was. She paints a picture of a 14-year-old Austrian girl that was sent to France to marry King Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman), to say it was a marriage of politics would be an understatement, and while neither Dunst nor Schwartzman look 14 the fact that they are young is obvious. This is where Coppola’s exploration begins and she does it with such delicacy and equal fire that your emotions are guided not only by the characters on screen, but the music, the glorious costumes and equally fantastic set designs. You begin to understand the spirit of the film simply by the way Coppola approaches her own material, here we have a story of a young girl thrust into a situation she can hardly understand. From the moment she is wed (14-years-old remember) the topic of an heir to the thrown is immediately brought up and thanks to her awkward husband this little storyline carries through half of the film, but this isn’t the end of Marie’s frustrations.
Marie must deal with her new position and everything that comes with it, think Bill Murray from Lost in Translation as he tried to make sense of Tokyo. This film deals with adolescence, growing up and what it means for a young girl to face such adult challenges as dealing with the king’s mistress (Asia Argento), proper morning rituals as led by Comtesse de Noailles (Judy Davis) who, along with an army of women, dresses Marie and preps her during the day so she acts with all the etiquette of a queen and ultimately those two tricky words – sex and love.
With such pompous and mundane subjects Coppola’s treatment is a welcome one as she also explores the materialistic and wild side of Marie, the Marie that loves to shop, loves to party and most of all loves candy. Trust me; you are going to see more than a handful of reviews out there that use a description of this film calling it “candy-coated,” it is a legitimate description as the Bow Wow Wow & Kevin Shields song “I Want Candy” was a focal point of the production including the decisions surrounding the color palette of the costumes.
Where audiences might suffer a disconnect with this film is in everything I just mentioned. People may see Marie as a snot, they might see her as a girl that gets bored, buys stuff, has sex and really doesn’t respect her position. This is why I said some audience members may get bored because this isn’t “Sex in the City” and it isn’t wrapped up for you nice and neat inside of 30 minutes. This is also where people just don’t understand or are choosing not to buy-in to what Coppola is trying to do. Using history as a stage she shows us the life of this 14-year-old girl and how she becomes a woman all while dealing with the problems of adults.
For the role of Marie Antoinette Kirsten Dunst seems tailor made. I can’t tell if she was able to relate to the misunderstood protagonist or if she has really come into her own as an actress, but I felt she really nailed this part, aside from a short scene where she is supposed to be crying which I didn’t believe for a second. In fact, along with Dunst there is not a poorly cast actor in this film, and that includes Rip Torn as King Louis XV, Steve Coogan as Austrian Ambassador Mercy, and Molly Shannon as the conniving Aunt Victoire who actually began her work on the film ten days after she gave birth. There she was, on the set, in France, her newborn in her arms… and action. People want to work with Coppola and the people she chooses are the right ones for their respective parts.
Flaws in the film are few and far between, but I felt a little bit more history may have done this film some justice and turned it into a bonafide Oscar contender. That said I think it will just have to make due with only a couple of noms as costume, art direction, make up and even a possible nom for Lance Acord’s cinematography. The movie is bustling and busy and Coppola manages to keep it all reigned in all while looking glorious. With Lost in Translation she showed movie going audiences she was a bonafide screenwriter and director, with Marie Antoinette she carries on and into a world where I can’t wait to see what she give us next.