As I mentioned the other night I went to see Marie Antoinette on my night off. I went to the South Beach theater and there were maybe 20 people in the theater. I love that. On to the movie shall we?
Let me start by saying something. This is not a movie about the French Revolution. This is not a movie about a monarch who as self-absorbed and cared nothing for her people who in turn got fed up with her, rose up against her, imprisoned her and her family, tried and executed by beheading her husband, grotesquely beat, stabbed, and decapitated her best friend and paraded her coifed head on a pike outside her prison, had her young son forcibly removed from her and placed in the care of an abusive alcoholic pro-revolutionary under whose care he eventually died under mysterious conditions, and who eventually tried her, found her guilty, and had her executed by beheading as well. If you want to see that sort of thing, try something else. This is definitely not for you. And that’s the main issue with the movie. This is not, in my opinion, a movie for history buffs. As a matter of fact I think this movie is for those who know history already and want to see things come alive and the things they are really interested in is NOT political unrest, but beauty and costume and the storybook lifestyle.
When you were young and dreamed of being a princess as many young girls are wont to do the kinds of things you dreamed about are in this movie but with adult sophistication and nuances. Sure you knew you’d be in a great pink dress but I bet you couldn’t imagine the luxury of such a dress. Coppola does. And yes you’d probably demand to feast on cakes and candies all day and Marie Antoinette does but please let’s not forget the champagne and the occasional recreational drug. On this end the film is gorgeous. I promise you’ll be hungry at least once in the movie because cakes and candies and champagne are as much a character as the Princess Lamballe, Marie Antoinette’s best friend. Other “main” characters are the costumes. The gorgeous never ending sea of one amazing costume after another. The incredible hair, the amazing accessories. And another important character is Versailles which creates the backdrop for some AMAZING shots. More than once I was struck by the feeling I was looking at a living painting. And also you can’t really dismiss the Petit Trianon, the queen’s private retreat which she turns into an idyllic country escape.
Also of keen interest other than the visual pleasure of watching the movie is the examination of I guess what you’d call Princess/Queen Culture. Sure it’s all very nice looking on the cover but there are definitely unpleasant things you don’t quite get. First of all is the constant never-ending scrutiny. Marie Antoinette’s mother says to her, “All eyes will be on you” and never has more of an understatement been uttered in a movie. Especially if you know some history like the fact Marie Antoinette is 14 years old when handed over to France to marry Louis and that she is only 19 when her husband is made King Louis XVI. You are then made to understand that a girl of 14 is reduced to her body. What can her body do for a country? Can it represent it well? Is it lovely enough? Very well but can it produce an heir to the throne? And that becomes the most pressing issue in the movie for Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI do not consummate their marriage for a LONG time and she doesn’t get pregnant for an even LONGER time. From the beginning, at 14, she is constantly chided by her mother (and begged and pleaded with) to coax her husband into having sex with her and knocking her up already. She is, physically, an object. This definitely hits home with the ritual Coppola brings to life of dressing the Princess every morning. I won’t ruin it for you but it’s a doozy and one of my favorite parts of the film .
The problem then is do you want to sit and watch something pretty? Plot is not something this movie is concerned with. Neither is history. This is a look at the life of a princess and a queen. So much so that once she begins having children and her relationship with the king is on much more solid ground, the movie begins to end. Coppola does not give you the how, why, when, where, and who of her downfall. Personally I’m fine with that. The movie DOES lag in some parts but it’s so pretty to look at it doesn’t really matter. The end DOES feel rushed, slightly awkward, and somewhat (dare I say it?) choppy. Interestingly enough these two differences do echo the life of the Queen. Lethargic and pleasure-driven in the beginning and quite the opposite in the end. There is no villain in the movie which is different from most other movies. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other characters to drive you batty (and entertain you at the same time). Madame du Barry, Madame Noailles, and the Aunts all provide some good contrast to Marie Antoinette.
I’m tempted to say leave this one for the rental. Not because it’s not worth the movie theater experience but the movie theater experience just doesn’t “fit” this movie. Do you have a girlfriend whose getting married but wants something tame? This is perfect for a girls night at home bachelorette party. This is definitely fun to have on the TV while your girlfriends and you are laid out in your jammies playing with makeup and nail polish and eating cookies cupcakes chocolates and drinking wine or even champagne and reading magazines. It just feels more right with the movie. Oh and one quick note. The music works just fine. I liked the 80s tracks. It didn’t hit me as cheesy or jarring at all. It just worked.