Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette Review: Extravagantly Boring
by Alex Billington
October 23, 2006
Sofia Coppola's third film, Marie Antoinette, is a period piece telling the young story of Queen Marie Antoinette in late 18th century France. Coppola captures the extravagance of the era perfectly, but she fails to create a satisfying mix of urbanization and '80s eclecticism. With only gratifying performances from Jason Schwartzman and Kirsten Dunst, there is not much more enjoyment offered in the rather lengthy and boring film that moves at a dully slow rate. Marie Antoinette was a formidable third attempt at filmmaking from Coppola, but it isn't a masterpiece by far.
The story of Marie Antoinette concerns the arranged marriage of the 14-year-old titular character (Dunst) of Austria to Prince Louis XVI (Schwartzman) of France to achieve peace between the two nations. After marrying, the French expected Louis and Marie Antoinette to produce an heir to the throne, but as the story unfolds we learn that Louis is not interested in sex, nor could Marie Antoinette seduce him enough to get interested. Louis XVI is a young man who is caught up in his own snobby life with more interest in hunting wild game than women. Queen Marie Antoinette doesn't fit in with the high-class lifestyle that the French royalty follows; she only wants to go to masquerade parties and sleep in each morning. Marie Antoinette tells the often comical and slightly entertaining story of these two together until the queen's eventual beheading.
Marie Antoinette is a slow-moving, often boring film with spots of pointed humor. Coppola does a great job of capturing the immense extravagance of the costumes and ornate life that the French royalty lived in at the time. Every scene is full of colorful, luscious and elaborate costumes all set in the background of the beautiful Palace of Versailles. On the other hand, Coppola's off-kilter attempt at modernization was so underdone that it didn't add much to the experience. Coppola has taken the story of Queen Marie Antoinette from history and transformed it with a more modern and upbeat style, adding more contemporary connections to today's society, a soundtrack of select romantic pop songs from the 1980s, and many more subtle details. The strongest of those additions was the soundtrack, but the modernization that Coppola, or at least Sony's marketing team, intended was sparse and detracting from the complete experience.
Jason Schwartzman delivers one of the only glowing performances alongside a serviceable lead from Kirsten Dunst. Even Molly Shannon, who I've often previously found hilarious on "Saturday Night Live," is a boring sight with barely one line garnering a snicker. Beyond that, no further acting stood out, and nothing more could bring any more appreciation to the movie. There are a few moments where the Dunst's character's emotion and quirky nature can be found, and these are some of the most enjoyable moments. When those disappear, so does the audience's attention, and before long all hope is lost.
Although a formidable attempt, Coppola fails to achieve the same excellence found in her previous film, Lost in Translation. Marie Antoinette is extravagantly boring and hardly entertaining. The director's attempt at modernization and inclusion of 1980s pop music begins to make an interesting impact, but peters out much too soon. Schwartzman is subtle and fantastic and Dunst is also notable, but beyond those few good performances, there is not much Marie Antoinette can offer. This film is an unfortunate downward step for Sofia Coppola's career.