Freighted by its contentious reception at Cannes, writer-director Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" is destined to become this year's love-it-or-hate-it movie. Is it OK to say I merely liked it a lot?
Actually shot at Versailles with enough opulence to rival a Golden Age of Hollywood production, "Marie Antoinette" serves up a tart conceit: Marie (Kirsten Dunst), only 14 when she was brought over from Austria to marry Louis, the dauphin (dull Jason Schwartzman), was essentially a flouncy, sweet-souled shopaholic – a Valley Girl with a piled-high pouf.
To emphasize the correspondence between then and now, Coppola plasters the soundtrack with '80s pop music, most deliciously Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy."
At first, all this goofball post-Modernism seems like a stunt, but Coppola is really on to something. Instead of making the usual stuffy, powdered wig movie about royalty, she plays around with the form – not simply as a lark but also to get at emotional truths lacking in most historical epics.
The Marie Antoinette of this film, which is derived from the recent Antonia Fraser biography, may in fact be closer to the real McCoy than previous incarnations. Dunst seems authentic as the child bride not only because of her relative youth – the film spans almost 20 years – but also because we can unhesitatingly imagine her wide-eyed predicament of being cast into a court where suddenly a retinue attends one's every whim.
Coppola initially presents Marie as a blank slate, which limits our interest in her. The director seems to be making the point that Marie became a fashionista because she needed to shore up popular support while waiting for Louis to provide France with an heir. (She had to wait a long time – seven years – for the marriage to be consummated.) But Coppola doesn't have much of a feel for court intrigue, so this point gets a bit lost.
What's surprising is that, by the end, "Marie Antoinette," for all its folderol, is quite touching. As she also demonstrated in "Lost in Translation," Coppola has a gift for capturing the loneliness of individuals in limbo. The blank slate turns out to be not so blank after all. Grade: B+
• Rated PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity, and innuendo.
Sex/Nudity: 15 scenes of frank talk or innuendo, 1 of implied sex. Violence: 3 scenes. Profanity: 2 mild profanities. Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco: 15 scenes of drinking, 1 scene of smoking, 1 scene with snuff.