Rated PG-13; Directed by Sofia Coppola; Starring Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Judy Davis, Rip Torn, Asia Argento, Steve Coogan
Palace intrigues, gorgeous costumes, and a modern soundtrack make for an interesting film biography of the Austrian princess, Marie-Antoinette. The pretty young princess certainly does have movie potential: she would end up as Louis XIV’s wife and eventually become queen of France, until she met an untimely end as the French Revolution starts a trend of taking off royal heads.
Booed by the audience when premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, Marie Antoinette – the movie, not the queen – has had a mixed reception. Despised by some, the film has also found fans. Director Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) tries for something different in a film biography and succeeds to a certain extent. Coppola is able to use contemporary music to show us that Marie-Antoinette was just another young teenage girl trying to appear cool. The question though, is this film what we want in our Hollywoodized biographies? It does start magnificently. A young girl sent off to a foreign land to marry a stranger, young Marie-Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) tries to find her way among the court intrigues. Married to Louis (Jason Schwartman), a prince who can’t seem to consummate the wedding, she must live among the pomp of 18th century royal life.
Marie Antoinette has charm and style, but as a story it dithers and lags as we watch Marie-Antoinette blandly live through tumultuous times. Kirsten Dunst does make the young queen a sympathetic character as she tries to survive the stilted life, but the story as written lags. The movie also ends at a strange point in her life. Instead of her death by guillotine we see only the end of her and her husband’s reign. This left me adrift – sort of a guillotinus interruptus – but it fits the style of the film, and allows us to breathe a sigh of relief that the grisly facts are saved for another film (perhaps 1938’s Marie Antoinette starring Norma Shearer?).
Milena Canonero certainly deserved her Oscar for costumes, as they are gorgeous. Filmed at actual locations including the palace of Versailles, the movie is beautiful to look at. It’s also interesting to listen to. Coppola uses the traditional classical music to depict the period, but she also uses modern music, including songs from the Cure, Bow Wow Wow, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. It does the trick in showing the young princess as a teenager, but it also makes you realize that this a more stylized film biography.
Hollywood has always had a problem making biographies faithful to the facts and times. Marie Antoinette isn’t even trying, but it works…well, except for a story that loses steam three quarters of the way through. If you like gorgeous costumes and fantastic sets then you may not mind this. If you want a slam bang finish on a story, you should stay away.