Release Date: October 20, 2006
The line between eccentric genius and delusion is often a thin one when it comes to filmmakers. Some films are very misunderstood when they are first released, then heralded later as great work, others are just misunderstood. For Sofia Coppola, my hope is that Marie Antoinette ends up being a showcase at the UCLA film school in 20 years because it redefined the biopic, otherwise it will die in obscurity.
The sad story of this film stems from its confused representation of the life of Marie Antoinette, the estranged and ill-fated Queen of France, whose vanity and extravagant taste earned her a seat in the guillotine later in life. Kirsten Dunst, the furthest thing from an Austrian duchess turned French Queen, was cast in the lead role along side Jason Schwartzman as Louis XVI. These casting decisions alone could be enough to condemn this movie, but it appeared that Coppola had a plan.
The plan was to tell the story of Marie Antoinette from the eyes of the young queen; to show the emotions and turmoil of being thrust into the life of a Queen at a ripe age and having to bear the burden of an entire country. Not only did Coppola want to tell the story this way, but she wanted to add her own flair as well to give the movie life, bright colors, a loud punk rock soundtrack and a cast that doesn’t fit the tradition mold for a historical biopic (i.e. their accents don’t match everyone else’s).
The result is a film that comes in like a punk rock video, pounding away at the audience with vivid colors, flashy scenery and of course, very loud music. But after the flash is gone from the pan, you find yourself yawning, checking your watch and searching for the last bits of popcorn from the bottom of the bag. It goes from loud and proud to downright atrocious. The dialog becomes heavy and the need to explain the historical relevance of these events kicks in, giving the film a quality that can only be described as boring. The film never really resurrects itself from this lethargic pace, even through what could be called the climax of the story, never recapturing its audience; then rather than ending, it just seems to fade away.
Coppola’s attempt at being original and edgy ends up being more of a missed opportunity than anything else. She dives off the deep end of the pier, but her film sinks rather than swims. The casting was right for the purpose but wrong in execution, the soundtrack is aggressive but it doesn’t work, and the film works its way into the realm of absolutely boring. Perhaps it would have been more entertaining if they had shown Kirsten Dunst facing the guillotine, or maybe not.
In the end, there is a reason why the French chopped of Marie Antoinette‘s head, just as there was a reason why they booed this film at Cannes.