With one critic calling it “frippery” and the Internet buzz saying it’s only “for girls and gays,” Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette makes it challenging for a guy to do her a solid. But here goes. In adapting Lady Antonia Fraser’s biography of the eighteenth-century queen, writer-director Coppola threw out a lot of things, including the politics, most of the French Revolution and Marie’s beheading after dismissing the ving peasants with “Let them eat cake,” a line she never utters in this movie. But what Coppola does focus on provokes and fascinates. No one captures girlhood on film better than Coppola. In The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation, she gives shimmer and substance to the emerging woman.
She works her magic again here with Kirsten Dunst expertly embodying the Austrian princess Marie, who was only fourteen when her empress mother (Marianne Faithfull, of all cool people) shipped her off to France to marry Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman, hilariously deadpan) and quickly produce an heir to seal the Franco-Austrian alliance. It took seven years, since young Louis did not inherit the gift of getting it up from Louis XV (Rip Torn, never more of a hoot than in his scenes with Asia Argento’s bawdy Madame Du Barry). But from the moment Marie arrives at the French border and a countess (Judy Davis, doing strict for the ages) strips her naked and divests her of all things Austrian, including her dog, Coppola puts us inside the bubble created for a queen. Your eyes will be dazzled, especially with the real Versailles as a location.
But Coppola sees more in Marie than an Old World Paris Hilton. By tossing in American slang, rock music (New Order and Bow Wow Wow) and eclectic acting styles, she’s crashing through the barriers of centuries and stuffy Hollywood biopics to give us a palpable sense of Marie moving through the temptations of flesh and spirit before history boxed her in. With lyrical intelligence and scrappy wit, Coppola creates a luscious world to get lost in. It’s a pleasure.