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November 03, 2006

Review: Marie Antoinette

TV and Movies

Last weekend, a friend and I went to see Sofia Coppola's new take on Marie Antoinette. My opinion? The short version: as the credits rolled, the guy sitting in front of us said "Well, that was the stupidest movie I've ever seen." My friend and I laughed for about five minutes.

The long version: What was this movie trying to do? We couldn't figure it out. We didn't think it knew. It would go on for a while as a reasonably straightforward historical biopic, and then bam! A sudden montage of shoes (including sneakers) and candy set to rock music! What? The music was one of the worst parts - well. The music itself was fine, and actually quite good in places. But the choice of music was disjointed: it went from generic historical-sounding instrumentals to 18th century opera to modern rock music and back with no discernable rhyme or reason. It was very "Oh, look how high-concept we are!" without seeming to have much of a concept - unless it was supposed to be a very long music video? Apparently Sofia Coppola directs music videos. Anyway. I watched the first half of the David Tennant Casanova the day after I saw Marie Antoinette, and I think Casanova is much more successful with the modern music/montages/etc. idea. There, it was well-integrated and actually made sense within the story. In Marie Antoinette, it just seemed tacked on.

Should we even bother discussing the historical accuracy or lack thereof? Aside from the deliberate anachronisms, the history really wasn't much worse than that of most historical movies. There were plenty of things that were changed - notably, the number of Marie Antoinette's children - but we expect that. (It amuses me that the goofs page at IMDb is concerned with anachronistic champagne glasses when, you know, there were so many more obvious issues. See above about rock music.) The bigger historical issue was that things weren't very well explained. I mean, I'm far from a Marie Antoinette or French Revolution expert, but I've read a few books (include the Antonia Fraser biography on which this movie is supposedly based), and I knew the story. The people sitting next to me, for example, talked a lot, and so I could tell that they did not know much of the story, and they were very confused. My friend and I found ourselves laughing at entirely different times than did most of the audience. It seems that the movie carefully arranged itself to work with no audience: there wasn't enough narrative force or explanation for those who weren't history buffs, but those of us who routinely bring reference materials to historical movies (for the after-movie dinner discussion! It makes perfect sense!) were guaranteed to be annoyed.

The other main issue was the pacing. It seemed like the part about the beginning of the marriage lasted forever, without much really happening. And then it sped up, perhaps so it could get away with skipping all of that pesky explanation about why exactly there was a revolution happening in the first place, and then stopped. Abruptly. There wasn't even any guillotine. As my friend said afterward, "It's not that I wasn't wishing it would end by that point, but some closure might have helped." Too much time was given to shoe montages and Kirsten Dunst sulking, not enough to an actual story. There was one scene that consisted of Marie Antoinette sitting in a room at Trianon with a bunch of guys playing guitars and singing to her, and it seemed to go on for a ridiculously long time. I just read that those guys were Sofia Coppola's boyfriend and his band. I'm shocked.

I must admit that it wasn't all bad. The clothes were pretty. (Isn't that the real reason we go to historical movies?) Most of the actors, especially Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman (apparently Sofia Coppola's cousin. Huh.), actually did remarkably well with what they were given. The character of Marie Antoinette was, remarkably, shown as rather complex - she wasn't the villian she's often made out to be, but she wasn't just a victim, either. My friend and I make a habit of going to see bad historical movies, and overall we rated this one as even worse than Kingdom of Heaven but better than King Arthur. Cake, anyone?

Posted by Kat at November 3, 2006 11:17 AM

Historical movies are fun. Amadeus remains one of my favorites (and that reminds me, I haven't seen it in ages). I haven't been to many lately, though--I think Neverland was the last one! Of course, historical fiction is good, too!

Posted by: --Deb at November 3, 2006 06:13 PM

I didn't have much desire to see this movie just because of Kirsten Dunst... she annoys me to no end. But now I will definitely not waste my money... thanks for the review!

Posted by: melissa at November 4, 2006 07:39 PM
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