Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette

For my first review I thought I would go with something difficult. A love it or hate it film. A 49% on the Rotten Tomatoes list, Sophia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette”. Before seeing this movie I had already decided I would not like it, being that I am not a fan of Coppola’s other films. Then while flipping through cable, I recently came across it and gave it a chance. I was entranced. This film is not really about Marie Antoinette and not really about the rich heiresses that engulf our modern media. It is about both. Marie Antoinette was born and later married into a world of money, power, food, clothes, and popularity. What was a young girl to do?

You know in period pieces where there is a party scene and it isn’t quite convincing as a party, well normally scenes like this are very structured and performed for the camera, separating the audience from the feeling of being there. There is always the dance and some conversation. Here we see the characters act like they are at a party, drinking, laughing, kissing, the place is packed and full of energy. This was the only time I felt like I was watching a real party in a period movie; this is what people probably acted like. Of course in the characters time it was contemporary to them so why can’t it come across to modern audiences as real? Another example that separates this film from others in the same category is the “carriage scene” where you watch characters get in, then see it leave, and then the shot of the carriage arriving at the destination. Where in the beginning of Marie Antoinette it puts us in the carriage with her and her companions along for the ride, where we see them sleep, play cards, and look out the windows. This among the party scenes and others removes the film from a period piece, giving it a more contemporary feel. It brings the audience closer, more familiar with the characters and action. You are watching them on a more personal level. The whole movie is a period piece that doesn’t play like one. It is refreshing. This movie shows what her private life might have been like; leaving out the political and social workings that would have changed the entire idea and mood of the film. Coppola is not necessarily kind or sympathetic to her character. She shows her as this teenager with all this stuff to play with and who is oblivious to everything going on around her. When she falls for the hunk in the movie there is a scene where she lies on her bed grasping at her chest and looking wistfully at nothing with big blue eyes. I have felt that ridiculous giddiness before as a teenage girl and it comes across so easily in this film. The ending is wonderful. Instead of showing her beheading which would have thrown the movie off course, there is a last frame of the film that shows her bedroom ransacked and destroyed. It signifies her death in a quiet, motionless, serenity. The soundtrack is fitting. It consists mostly of 80’s new wave at its height, which works great, moving along with the feel of the film.

Kirsten Dunst, who plays Marie Antoinette, does the job of looking as if she’s made of sugar along with the costumes and set. There is a sly, pretty, simpering look on her face most of the movie. The little dialogue she has is weak, and her speech is unsteady. Jason Shwartzman is so unconvincing as Louis XVI that it is just silly. This does not make me dislike the movie; it actually makes it more likeable to me. Let me describe it this way…

A candy apple has a shiny red candy shell, super sweet, but the apple inside is usually stale and soft. Marie Antoinette is like a candy apple, frivolous, sweet, fun, and satisfies your sweet tooth. It is somehow satisfying, but superficially. Yes this movie is frivolous and yes that might be the point. But, it is also a unique portrayal of a historical figure. Instead of an intense historical period drama you get a quiet, light, atmospheric story of Marie Antoinette or any teenage heiress whose obliviousness gives her nothing to do but eat cake.


  1. So I never actually got around to seeing this film, but I read a lot of reviews on it when it first came out. Yours is the first that actually makes me want to go out and watch it.

    Your film reviewing is like a candy apple..

  2. I had not thought about the ransaking of her room as signifiying her death. And, I like what you said about the candy apple. I think you are right.

    Because I do not listen to pop music I missed the whole sound track emphasis. I can understand how that made the movie more powerful.

  3. Hey! I loved the style of your review and totally get the party thing but had never thought about that before. This really makes me want to see this too.