review for Marie Antoinette on AllMovie

Marie Antoinette (2006)
by Perry Seibert review

As she did in her masterful Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola creates an involving sense of physical place in her period biopic Marie Antoinette. The first hour of this film plays well, in large part because the viewer enjoys being inside this remarkably ornate universe. After the film is over, one will be left with vivid memories of tea, shoes, and desserts, but without any idea about the lead character. Early in the film the young Austrian princess (Kirsten Dunst) is forced to give up her beloved dog -- once she marries into the French aristocracy she must leave behind anything from her previous court. She is wracked with tears when separated from her beloved pooch, but minutes later she is seen caring for and loving brand new dogs in Versailles. This film's conception of Marie makes it nearly impossible to care much for her as she merely flits from entertainment to entertainment, enjoying whatever she fancies at the moment until another distracting bauble comes her way. This might work in a film that intended to show the empty spoiled waste of the socially privileged, but Coppola wants us to care for her lead character as the rabble begin to call for an end to her reign. Not until very late in the proceedings does it seem that Marie wishes her life was any different than it is, and Coppola fumbles this sequence by using a pedestrian gauzy, romance-novel cover shot of the lover she longs for to symbolize her daydream. For all its splendid costumes, cinematography, and art direction, Marie Antoinette fails because the lead character never gets to choose the direction in her life, and is never made interesting enough for the audience to find her tragic.