Was Marie Antoinette everything I hoped it would be? Of course not. I don't know what I was expecting from Sofia Coppola's follow-up to the sublime Lost in Translation, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Marie.
The film opens with the young Marie (Kirsten Dunst)on her way from Austria to France where she will marry the prince who eventually becomes Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman). What would a teenage girl have made of the palace of Versailles? I think Coppola's decision to focus on Marie as a young woman rather than a historical figure was the right one. Dunst is certainly beautiful enough to play a queen, but this Marie is alternately charmed and intimidated by the court politics and her role as a baby machine. The easy question is how much of herself Coppola (next generation of a filmmaking family) sees in Marie, but I thought more of the similarities between the Queen and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) in Lost in Translation. Both are young women uneasily married and unsure of themselves in a foreign culture.
The film that Marie Antoinette reminded me most was actually Terrence Malick's The new World. I'm not suggesting that Coppola's work is equal to Malick's masterpiece, but something in Dunst's face reminded me of Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher) in The New World. Both movies have at their center the face of a woman unwittingly at the center of history. But while Pocahontas (in Malick's vision) maintains her open-heartedness and innocence until the end, but in Marie Antoinette (roughly a century later) Dunst is imprisoned by hair, clothes, architecture, and politics. Ah, civilization.
Both films share an observational style, observing rather than psychologically depicting their characters. This where Coppola's film falls short. Yes, Marie becomes infatuated with clothes and partying. Unfortunately there are only so many montages of people eating desserts and making a fool of themselves that we can take. Malick's Jamestown is more tactile, a fully realized world rather than a stage upon which Coppola plays out her idea of a young woman in over her head. The supporting cast in The New World is small, but Wes Studi, Christopher Plummer, and the rest are all vivid and three-dimensional. Judy Davis is ideal as a royal counselor in Marie, but Steve Coogan, Molly Shannon, Shirley Henderson, and Rip Torn (as Louis XV) are all in underdeveloped roles.
The comparison between Marie Antoinette and The New World may be strained, but I've gotta be me. Is there another American director as good on minute shades of boredom as Coppola? I hope I have time to see Marie Antoinette again before it leaves theatres.