Married at fourteen, sneaking out to all night masquerade parties at sixteen, combining in excesses of cocaine, gambling and champagne at seventeen; what may sound like the previews for a particularly intense season of MTV: True Life are actually a few of the highlights from the extravagant life of Marie Antoinette. Continuing her seemingly endless exploration into the struggles of a woman transitioning from teenage to adult life, Sofia Coppola wrote and directed the film. In the same vein as The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette mixes in a refreshing view of modern life with the beauty and elegance of the time period. Using 18th century France and the actual epic palace of Versailles as the back-drop, Coppola seamlessly blends regality with frivolity in a way that is only fitting of Antoinette.
Kirsten Dunst was just as believable as a fourteen-year-old dauphine as she was as a beleaguered thirty-eight-year-old queen. Dunst brought a whimsical cheerfulness to Antoinette that immediately showed her character as endearing, despite her eccentric and overindulgent lifestyle. “The queen has a somewhat autistic temperament,” Ambassador Mercy (the wonderfully sardonic Steve Coogan) summarized succinctly. The cast, including Rip Torn (Louis XV), Molly Shannon (Aunt Victoire), Judy Davis (Comtesse de Noailles) and many others was mostly comprised of comedians, which added yet another terrific side to the film. Jason Schwartzman (King Louis XIV) gave an outstanding performance, poking fun at Louis’ notorious brevity and awkwardness. In spite of the character’s frequent inept moments, he delivered a stirring emotional performance, as well, giving the character surprising depth as shown in his steadfast allegiance to the fledging United States and inspiring love and loyalty of Marie Antoinette, despite her illustrious affair.
As expected, Coppola did not skimp on the soundtrack. Ranging from The Cure to The Strokes with tracks from New Order and Aphex Twin; there was an eerie perfection to the appropriateness of each selection. They not only synced up with the theme and tone of the movie, but enhanced everything by bringing an accessible and relatable counterpoint to the increasing lavishness of each scene. Showcasing such primal sounds paired with the scenery of the Palace of Versailles is a great example of the constant contrast of imperiousness and revelry that Coppola appeared to strive for throughout the film.
There were points in the story that were a bit overwhelming by the need to explicate, but the majority of the film was supremely well-balanced between it’s poignancy and historical factuality. Besides being an exceptionally well-told story about the life and times of Marie Antoinette, this film is an amazing mixture of comedy and romance that spices up what many would have written off as nothing more than a history book put to screen. Sofia Coppola has, yet again, found an intensity and profundity that transcends the setting and the plot and shows at its core a timeless story that can be admired and loved by all audiences.