This movie is not really about Marie Antoinette
Release date: October 20, 2006
Director: Sofia Coppola
Who should watch this movie: Adolescent girls. People who went to private school in New York.
When should you watch this movie: When you’re prepping for a night out with your gal pals. When the personal drama in your life is starting to feel overwhelming.
The sell: One might expect that a movie with little to no dialogue would feel pared down, bare, and minimalist. On the contrary, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette feels robust and textured. It’s not that the words themselves aren’t important, but rather that words mean very little in this world of frills and chocolates. The French Court of Coppola’s imagination is as we would expect a high school lunchroom to be. Petty, indulgent in gossip, at times chaotic, but never overly serious. Such rendering is a far cry from the cannon of “period drama” in which the mechanisms of class and court politics are centered as life or death forces, treated with sombre attitude and grim resolve. Coppola does not address these forces flippantly, but rather as a sheltered teenage girl would. Thus, we see this world from the perspective of the protagonist, fourteen-year-old princess turned villain queen Marie Antoinette. Coppola does not set out to absolve this polarizing figure in the eyes of history. Rather, she presents her as she was: Young, naive, and self-absorbed – traits recognizable in many if not most adolescents. The stakes never feel real or meaningful because young Antoinette does not perceive them to be. While there is appropriate ambivalence among critics towards Coppola’s ahistoricism, there are few instances in cinema in which youth is so expertly and compassionately portrayed. Of course, this adolescent representation is far from ubiquitous, being closer to Coppola’s own story than to any universal experience. Yet it touches on something small but fundamental about girlhood, which in the moment feels more important than the coming revolution. Ensconced in pastels and lace, Kirsten Dunst brings fresh – sometimes anachronistic – honesty to this role and drives home Coppola’s story about a cloistered girl’s pursuit of joy.