Gossip, back-stabbing, all-night parties, '80s pop, obsessively tended hairstyles and giddy, breathless swooning over the latest fashions.
Is it high school or 18th-century Versailles?
In the eyes of the perpetually fashion-conscious, girly-girl filmmaker Sofia Coppola, it may be both. Coppola's oeuvre is founded on arrested development, wistfulness, cool music, parties as emotional catharsis, romantic melancholy and sex from a woman's point of view. She brings all of those interests to bear on her story of France's most notorious royal girl, Marie Antoinette, the kind of queen bee who would do well in the high school fantasias of Clueless or Mean Girls.
Coppola has found her eterna-girl muse in pearly Kirsten Dunst, whose dewdrop fragility and childlike features make her uniquely endearing as the Austrian teen. When the film opens in 1798, Marie Antoinette has been traded like Monopoly property to the French court as the bride of the future King of England, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman).
Hard to believe this near-eunuch has sprung from the loins of the lusty whoremonger Louis XV (a delicious Rip Torn).
Still a babe himself, Marie Antoinette's king-to-be is joined at the hip to a posse of hunting buddies like some California surfer dude more interested in tasty waves than the alabaster virgin sleeping next to him.
The whatever attitude of the underage monarchs-to-be is just one of Coppola's contemporary touches. The jolts of hipster cool extend to a New Romantics catalog of '80s pop tunes from Bow Wow Wow, Adam Ant, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, a winking glimpse of a pair of lilac Converse high-tops and the kind of giddy partying generally reserved for John Hughes prom scenes.
Disappointed by her new husband's disinterest in shagging, Marie Antoinette distracts herself with raucous parties and shoe-buying binges. Clearly not a stranger to the emotional salve of shopping, Coppola fetishizes clothes the way Tony Scott fetishizes military hardware and spends no small amount of screen time on Marie A's footwear, wigs, dresses, fans and the equally delectable pastries she and her girlfriends devour as they eyeball the latest in 18th-century haute couture.
Marie Antoinette's look is creamy-luxe and sumptuous, a frothy pretty-party of endless gilt and ornamentation, blushing pinks and robin's-egg blues. Much of the film's appeal derives from Coppola's distinctly feminine touch and the obvious sympathetic eye she casts on Marie Antoinette's charmed but constricted life.
Marie Antoinette is history as seen through the eyes of a young woman with her own Hollywood royalty pedigree as heir to the Francis Ford filmmaking throne. Undoubtedly well aware of the pain and pleasure of living large in the public eye, Coppola makes her Marie Antoinette utterly simpatico for her shared lack of privacy. Dressed each morning by a legion of royal ladies, her childbearing labor watched like a sporting event and her sex life a topic of open discussion, there is a sense of public ownership of Marie A. that parallels with contemporary Americans coveting and corralling their celebrities.
But as Marie Antoinette prattles on, the film becomes less an insight into Marie Antoinette's gilded cage within Versailles' oppressive protocol and more about Coppola's party-hearty reveries. Coppola indulges her not unprecedented tendency to go head-over-heels for the surface of things. She spends more time on raucous court nightlife, dice-throwing and champagne guzzling than she does on the interior perceptions of Marie Antoinette, who remains as much an historical cipher as ever.
Despite the punk-rock opening graphics, Dunst's saucy introductory smirk at the camera and all that party-girl decadence, Marie Antoinette is not quite the story of feminine rebellion it initially suggests. Coppola doesn't so much make Marie an unapologetic sybarite and cake-eating hedonist as much as she makes her oblivious.
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