Marie Antoinette is not perfect, but on the strength of Kirsten Dunst’s performance and director/writer Sofia Coppola’s unique style, the film manages to succeed.
2006’s Marie Antoinette, written and directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Kirsten Dunst in the title role, has sort of become a forgotten film within Coppola’s filmography. When you consider that this film followed The Virgin Suicides (1999) and Lost in Translation (2003), one could say that some critics considered it a letdown given that her first two films were highly acclaimed. However, looking back on it, is it possible that Coppola was held to a bar that would be impossible for anyone to reach? In all honesty, her third film may be a step down, but by no means is it bad.
Marie Antoinette centers on the life of Maria Antonia, who would later be known as Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) as she is sent from her native Austria as a teenager to marry Louis-Auguste (Jason Schwartzman), the Dauphin of France, to seal an alliance between the two rival countries. The film then focuses on her life in the years leading up to the French Revolution, during which time she becomes known for her spending habits and luxurious lifestyle.
These sets and costumes are absolutely gorgeous. They help influence the character of Marie Antoinette so much and, along with Dunst’s performance, help make the film worth watching. The extravagance is such a key to Marie and her story, and through the beautiful sets and costumes, Sofia Coppola gives audiences a visual delight and perfect representation of that. Both help tell the story and play an integral part in keeping the audience invested. Without them, this tale of a young queen and her insane life would fall completely flat. No one would want to watch this film if it was constantly set in bland, colorless rooms and featured costumes that are not unique in the slightest.
Kirsten Dunst is sensational, powerful, and fun as Marie Antoinette. Her casting is inspired, considering that Dunst was a child actress and had a ton of attention on her at an early age. Even though she is not the same age as the character, Dunst clearly has the ability to relate to her in some way and brings that forward to the screen throughout. Dunst gives a performance that is vulnerable in the same way that Kristen Stewart’s turn in Spencer (2021) was even though they are not completely alike. The point being that had Marie Antoinette received a better critical reception, Kirsten Dunst would have probably earned an Academy Award nomination. She captures so many sides of the title character and is magnetic.
Sofia Coppola tackles the narrative with a feminist twist. Marie Antoinette has obviously been painted in so many ways throughout history. A good number of people would undoubtedly consider her a villain. The reality is a bit murkier than that, given that she was a child when she was sent to marry Louis. There is so much pressure thrust upon this young girl and honestly, who can blame her for turning out the way she did. Yes, she did live excessively, but my goodness, anyone would in her shoes. Coppola’s take on the queen gives her some agency and power, acknowledges Marie Antoinette’s difficulties, and does not hide the negatives she has. It is an extravagant and modern take, one that should not completely be taken as fact and is not meant to be.
Coppola’s direction is exquisite: there are plenty of breathtaking shots here that one cannot get enough of. She has such an amazing vision and executes it with what seems like ease. Coppola keeps everyone, even the history buffs invested with the excessive flair that would fit Queen Marie Antoinette. However, as many have pointed out, the character development can be quite lacking. Marie herself gets a ton of love, as one might expect. Jason Schwartzman’s Louis XVI, while quirky, leaves a lot to be desired. One could argue that this is not his story, and everything he does, is in support of Marie.
When you are talking about the French Revolution as a whole though, you could probably have given the pieces around Marie a little love. We do not really care about anyone but Marie in Marie Antoinette; everyone else is just there. The one thing that comes close to making you feel something for anything but Marie is the last shot, which represents so many different things coming to a close. Even if it is an abrupt-ish ending, that last shot is so powerful because Coppola put such a focus on Marie as an individual, her excessive lifestyle, and the beauty and pain that came with it.
What pains me is even though that last shot is so powerful and I really do enjoy this film, there is that part of me that realizes that it could have been even better. Much like with Baz Luhrmann, your tolerance for the work of Sofia Coppola and her unique style of writing and directing may vary. Marie Antoinette is one of the finest examples of that divide. Some will be completely enamored with the lavish parties, modern sensibilities/dialogue, and an exquisite performance from Kirsten Dunst in the title role.
Others will be completely turned off by it, which is understandable. Then you have people like yours truly, who land somewhere in the middle, and in the case of Marie Antoinette, I find this film to be quite the spectacle and can never look away from the screen. At the same time, there are qualms that I have with it, mainly the lack of character development. The soundtrack of Marie Antoinette absolutely slaps! Sofia Coppola, much like Baz Luhrmann, is a master of placing modern songs in distinct periods of time where you would not find them in order to better establish a creative vision. This soundtrack helps the film stand out further from any other depiction of Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution. In particular, the I Want Candy needle drop is pretty solid and a great tune to set a montage to.
Marie Antoinette has flaws, but still remains a good enough film with tremendous set and costume design. Add in Kirsten Dunst and her performance in the title role and you have something that a lot of audiences can enjoy.
Marie Antoinette is now available to watch on digital and on demand.