marie antoinette

My expectations for this film, formed the moment I saw the trailer, were handily met: it’s a top-notch soundtrack with a sumptuous music video. It kicks off with Gang of Four’s “Natural’s Not In It,” and follows up with Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” before using the Cure’s “Plainsong” more effectively and majestically than will ever be seen again. New Order’s “Ceremony” continues the winning streak, and then it’s back to the Cure for yet another home run, “All Cats Are Grey” setting the perfect mood for the credits.

Unfortunately, this wants to be a movie rather than a music video, and it’s not nearly as effective in that capacity.

I can’t speak to the historical accuracy, but since this is ostensibly about Marie Antoinette’s inner life, what’s more important is whether it tells a convincing, interesting, emotionally significant story. You can probably guess that, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t.

I kind of like Sofia Coppola’s soft-focus, low-key style, so it’s a real shame that she only has one subject: young girls privileged with a soporific combination of too much leisure time and not enough freedom, none of whom ever find a vital or even satisfactory response to their situation. This makes her films really unsatisfying. The Virgin Suicides worked because it wasn’t so much about the girls as what those around them saw in them, but I really didn’t enjoy Lost In Translation. Unless you could sympathize with Scarlett Johansson’s character’s awful plight — being stuck in Japan with no apparent responsibilities or obligations or financial limitations — what was the point? Do you know how long it would take me to get bored in Tokyo if I had nothing preventing me from exploring?

And now we have Kirsten Dunst, who is stuck in a French palace with the royal treasury at her disposal. To be fair, she does have an awful lot of responsibilities, such as standing shivering naked in her bedroom while half the court works out who has the privilege of dressing her that morning. Oh, and she somehow also has to get pregnant by Jason Schwartzman, who is suddenly in every movie that calls for a charmless male lead. Most of the first half of the movie is about Marie Antoinette’s total inability to sexually interest her husband, and here’s where my lack of historical knowledge came in handy, because this was the only matter of suspense to me. Would she make friends with the bitchy women of the court? Would she find a hairstyle she liked? Would she run out of room for her shoes? These weighty issues didn’t hold my interest. I just wanted to know what the deal was with little Louis. Did he have a chippie on the side? Was he banging his homeboys on hunting trips? Why couldn’t he get it up for bony little Mary Jane Watson?

I never got much of an answer to that, though I confess I was only half watching during the second hour of this interminable and turgid thing. As far I could tell he was just intermittently impotent, and somehow all it took was a man-to-man from his brother-in-law to get their biorhythms in sync. So they squeeze out a few kids, M.A. buys more stuff and throws parties, she teaches Paris to clap at the opera, she bangs some random Count who’s somehow even less attractive than her husband, and eventually the French people get pissed off and storm the castle. The end.

According to this film, Marie Antoinette was a passive little girl whose greatest accomplishment was getting comfortable enough with her station in life to shop. I can’t remember a single positive action she took on her own behalf and through her own counsel. This might in fact have been the case, but then why make a film that looks as though we’re going to see the woman behind the rather disparaging legend? If this film is to believed, there wasn’t much of one.

…but how about that soundtrack, dude? Seriously, I have to give Coppola props for pulling off a ballroom scene set to “Hong Kong Garden” by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Now if only she could get her hands on a script that involves people we can actually comprehend and care about.