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Film review

Half-baked 'Marie Antoinette'

Neither spoof nor history nor unabashed spectacle, this film never decides what it wants to be.

Published October 19, 2006

The opening credits of Marie Antoinette promise a punk explosion detonated in 18th century France: pink letters on a black background and Gang of Four banging on the soundtrack.

We get a shot of Kirsten Dunst as Marie, smiling saucily while lounging in a frosting-white room as she licks a luscious cake. This is going to be fun, we think.

Suddenly, the fun stops.

When the credits end, we're yanked from MTV to Masterpiece Theatre with the usual ornate re-creations of how the upper crust lived back then. Dunst never quite gets into that 1700s mood, instead playing Marie as a girl who just wants to have fun. She's the heroine of every 21st century high school comedy playing dress-up, and the only anachronism Coppola sticks with for the entire movie.

Without the MTV-esque boldness, Marie Antoinette must be going for a teen-accessible version of history, right?

Wrong again. Aside from the basic biographical information - Austrian teen princess becomes queen of France through an arranged marriage, then reportedly says "Let them eat cake" to the peasants - not much of Marie's life or death by guillotine is covered here.

Moulin Rouge and A Knight's Tale got the warped-time conceit right by taking their revisionist strategies over the top. Marie Antoinette never decides if it will be a similar hybrid of past and present or just another costume piece.

Anachronisms shouldn't be as subtle as Coppola makes them; a glimpse of a Converse tennis shoe during a shopping spree and a quasi-pogo minuet just aren't enough.

The movie is listless, as if Coppola watched Barry Lyndon and thought she could be Stanley Kubrick simply by lingering on antique images. Her minimalist approach worked in Lost in Translation, but with so many gorgeously decadent settings, we expect more.

And Dunst isn't Bill Murray, who portrays more with less so well. She's pretty, and pretty vacant.

Other actors fare a bit better. Rip Torn's lascivious air makes King Louis XV a fun distraction. Jason Schwartzman eventually makes the dauphin Marie marries later Louis XVI someone whose annoying habits are amusing.

Most of the cast simply allow elaborate costuming to act for them.

Marie Antoinette may appeal to teens with crushes on Dunst and fashionistas looking for something to crib for next season.

Otherwise, cake is more nourishing.

Steve Persall can be reached at (727) 893-8365 or


Marie Antoinette

Grade: C-

Director: Sofia Coppola

Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Steve Coogan, Judy Davis, Rip Torn, Molly Shannon

Screenplay: Sofia Coppola

Rating: PG-13; brief nudity, sexual content and innuendo

Running time: 123 min.

[Last modified October 18, 2006, 10:40:53]

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