On the surface Marie Antoinette appeared to be a colorful, modern, and energetic retelling of the story of a doomed queen. While it definitely captured the colorful, it never got a grasp on energetic. In fact, it seemed to be the very opposite.
At the outset, the languishing pace can be understood. Marie's isolation is the center of attention at this point. We see and feel how she is being sent to a country she's not familiar with to marry a man she hasn't met; we empathize as she is subjected to a humiliating stripping at the border, since the French will not allow her to enter their country with any article of Austrian clothing; we feel for her as she begins to lose her identity. Doubtless, these events would be moving slowly and inextricably for any of us. This is portrayed well.
However, there seems no reason to perpetuate this dawdling pace. Our esteemed director, Sofia Coppola, seemed to delight in dwelling on the silliest things. For example, we are able to enjoy breakfast with the royal couple numerous times and then we see Louis ride off to some hunt. The rituals associated with retiring for the night and waking in the morning are repeated for the audience as well. We enjoy the boring letters from Marie's mother and the lectures from some Austrian guy. (It was never clear to this reviewer just who he was nor just why I should care who he was). Then came the supposed "excesses" of Marie Antoinette: the food, the clothes, the parties. Boring. No titillation whatsoever could be dredged out of these scenes – even under the threat of a beheading. Apparently, we were being educated in the monotony that this poor Austrian princess had to endure.
Interesting yet aggravating scenes were strewn about through the course of the movie. Some of the royal dinners were extravagant affairs. Coppola has a talent for understatement, a powerful tool in filmmaking, and this is shown in the subtle gossiping that went round the table. And while that can be insightful, in this case it was, once again, just annoying. It seemed incomprehensible and after a few whispered sentences the audience is left straining to hear and understand what's happening. After a while, you just cease to be interested.
On a positive note, the costuming was superb. The hairstyling especially garnered attention, for everyone in the movie. It was just bizarre – and thus fun to gawk at. The set design was extravagant as well. It was a beautiful film to behold. And if the portrayal of Marie Antoinette's isolation was the theme, then hats off to the audio crew. They used silence and muted conversation to perfection. However, that alone is not enough to elevate a film.
Kirsten Dunst delivered a decent performance as Marie. She retained a demure pointlessness throughout the film. There were moments when she genuinely made us feel sorry for her character. The birth of Marie's nephew comes to mind as a good example. Marie needed to have the first royal child and this didn't happen. Dunst conveyed her character's mix of joy and sorrow well. Her frustration with the intimate aspects of the royal marriage was finely nuanced – though that whole bit was just as irritating and boring as the rest of the film.
The only other performer who stood out was Molly Shannon. That's because after years on Saturday Night Live it's very difficult to take her seriously. Perhaps that epitomizes this whole film – it was never clear if it was to be a poignant story of isolation and inevitable doom or just a silly and irreverent peek into an historical character whose true nature seems to be in question.