Finally caught up with Marie Antoinette - the film by Sofia Coppola, that is - this weekend (it arrives on DVD tomorrow) and found it gorgeous, well-made, sometimes even surprisingly moving, if not always fully engaging.
If the anachronistic music - a mix of 80s new wave, music of my youth, and contemporary indie rock - alongside more appropriate music of the period struck me as a little distracting, it didn't bother to the level it did some, or, seemingly, the whole of France. Coppola may have been trying to be more upfront about the anachronistic approach given the other aspects of the film that are - the casting, especially. Still, she has the same tendency as a director that her friend Wes Anderson - whose work I often adore, but they both tend to rely a bit too much on the Montage With Music. I like to allow a filmmaker one of these per film, but no more than that.
The script could look something like this:
INT. VERSAILLES PALAIS - NIGHT/DAY
Here we skim through scenes of Marie partying with her friends to depict her decadent lifestyle and attempts to fulfill the emptiness of her personal life with fashion, food, friends and fabulousness. Music: Something from the 80s, say New Order or Siouxsie.
OMG! I'm like totally the Queen!
Okay, that's a little snarky. I withdraw the last bit of dialogue, your honor.
And in fact, the film succeeds in what I think was its primary goal: to make Marie Antoinette sympathetic. It does this quite successfully (as well as also making us understand why she eventually became the symbolic target of fed up Revolutionary-minded French people.)
I was skeptical of the casting of Jason Schwartzman as King Louis XVI, and Dunst herself. But in the framework of the film, they each justify their presence here - Schwartzman is good at playing shy and awkward without overdoing it; Dunst is always appealing even if she isn't the kind of actress who can completely stretch herself, and here her dimpled mix of girlishness mixed with budding sexuality, even if still a little too distractingly American, works in her creation of the future Queen as the young, open minded, easily distractable girl that she was. Rip Torn is inspired casting as Louis XV, appropriately ribald, as befitting a King who kept a mistress in his later years. (She's played by Asia Argento, not a great actress but with a unique look and she has the right sort of empathetic - for lack of a better word - fuckedupness for that role.) Comedienne Molly Shannon has a small part as one of "Aunts," and she physically fits it - she has that "mean girl" smirkiness that befits a two-faced person. Danny Huston, one of my favorites, appears in a few scenes but makes an impact as Marie's brother, and, in perhaps the best casting of all, Steve Coogan plays Ambassador Mercy, Marie's one guiding link back to Austria.
There are many great scenes here, too; many of them in and around poor Marie's bed, as she suffers through the young Louis' sexual inadequacy (wasn't much in the way of sex ed. back then either) and eventually the births of her children, as well as several beautiful scenes at the opera.
That the look of the film - both in art direction, sumptious costume design and in Coppola's (with cinematographer Lance Acord, who also shot Lost in Translation as well as Spike Jonze's films) unerring eye for exquisitely framed shots - is faultless is less surprising, given how each of the director's previous films have looked. In fact it looks so authentic in capturing 18th century France that it again begs the question as to whether Coppola needed to push the envelope with the soundtrack.
The film's a visual treat and succeeds in making us both empathize with the historically (and seemingly unfairly) maligned Marie while putting her situation in the right historical context. If it's a bit choppy at times and if we're sometimes kept at a distance, it's not detrimental enough to the film's overall impact. Like the character herself, Marie Antoinette deserved a better reception.
The DVD: Includes an above average "making of" doc by Sofia's mom, Eleanor, that's worth a watch, and a slight if amusing (until it gets old) parody of MTV's Cribs with Schwarztman doing his Louis as gangsta showing off his palace. There will presumably be another edition on DVD that adds commentary by Coppola and company at some point, but not on this one.