Film review by: Witney Seibold
Director Sofia Coppola has a weird moody vibe to her movies. It is reminiscent of the last day of high school. BFF 4-Ever, guys. Let’s always be friends. After the dance tonight, I’m going to kiss Billy for the first time, and then go away to college. The lyrics of Vitamin C’s teen rock ballad “Graduation (Friends Forever)” floated through my head for much of Coppola’s new film “Marie Antoinette.”
First of all, the extravagant monarch is played by Kirsten Dunst, a cosmopolitan modern city girl if ever there was one. Louis XVI is played by Jason Schwartzman who looks like a New York Jew. So already we’re outside of the usual fake-accents-and-accuracy that usually peppers period films of this kind. Secondly, Coppola fills the film with contemporary music; during one montage of trying out candies and shoes, The Strangelove’s 1980s hit “I Want Candy” blasts on the soundtrack. So we’re not surrounded by the usual vague classical music that usually spews out of such period dramas. And third, the shoes and dress are intentionally anachronistic. Manolos are the featured shoes, and a few people have now pointed out to me that there were indeed a few pairs of sneakers hanging around in the film. So the film is not as historically accurate as most period films of this ilk set out to be.
In other words, this is not a typical period film. It may have the large ballgowns and powdered wigs, but Coppolla is more interested in telling the emotional story of a poor little rich girl, who was thrust into a job she didn’t want, in a world she doesn’t really understand, and a boyfriend who doesn’t understand her. The story of Marie Antoinette is vaguely familiar to most high school history students: an Austrian betrothed to Louis XVI, wrenched away from her home, became queen while still a teenager, spent the kingdom into the ground, said “let them eat cake,” fled the oncoming revolt, was eventually decapitated. But this film is not going to be giving us a history class greatest hits version of this story. It will be giving us a mood piece about a confused teenager who could be living in any era. It also wants to explode some myths about the woman. She was not prodigal as the rabble thought her, but unfamiliar with frugality. And she never did say that line about the cake.
No doubt Coppola saw a lot of herself in Marie. They were both rich teenage girls, part of grand dynasties (the Coppola clan is one of the largest in Hollywood) surrounded by lives of utter luxury, and have no way of bonding with the world other than pursuing ones extravagant interests, and throwing parties and bonding deeply with girlfriends that they may not know for too long. Coppola may not have experienced the sexual frustration that Marie did (Louis XVI seems a bit to shy to do anything in bed, and forcing her into the bed of a hunky Swedish soldier played by Jamie Dornan), but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that she did.
One the one hand, I can’t get behind the spoiled-little-rich girl elements of the film; as someone who is not royalty or the member of a vast powerful Hollywood dynasty, it’s hard to feel sympathy for the mild emotional quibbles someone who has unlimited political and spending power. On the other hand, I really felt the moods that Coppola was giving us. She did want a constant feeling of elegy to hang in the air, and we really did feel the pressure and disappointment pointed at Marie when she was unable to produce an heir. I was also impressed by much of the supporting cast, including Rip Torn as Louis XV, Molly Shannon and Shirley Henderson as two gossiping courtiers, Steve Coogan as a frustrated advisor, and Asia Argento as Louis’ vampish mistress. No one can play vampish like Asia.
A good film, yes. Certainly worth looking at.