THE PRINCESS DIARIES

 

REVIEWED - MARIE ANTOINETTE: Luscious production values aren't enough to enliven Sofia Coppola's music video historical romp, which is a hip but insubstantial souffle, writes Michael Dwyer

SOFIA Coppola's Marie Antoinette had its world premiere at Cannes on a wave of hyped-up ballyhoo, but it came as no surprise when it failed to collect any awards from the festival jury. The freshness and promise Coppola showed in her more intimate, observational earlier films, The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation, appears to have evaporated as she moves on to a grander scale - and produces a souffle.

Coppola's slavishly hip treatment of the teen queen's story is preoccupied with capturing the style of the time - the camera drools over the sumptuous costumes, elegant shoes and ornate hairstyles - at the expense of explaining or even establishing its historical context, so much so that the French Revolution is kept off camera. This is all the more surprising given that Coppola's screenplay is based on Antonia Fraser's authoritative biography of Marie Antoinette.

It helps that Kirsten Dunst is thoroughly appealing in the title role, and almost convincing as a 23-year-old playing a girl who is 14 when she first appears in the film, as an Austrian princess entering France in 1769 for an arranged marriage to the future King Louis XVI. In that role, Coppola's cousin Jason Schwartzman is hopelessly miscast, as is Rip Torn, who hams it up in a gruff Texan accent as Louis's father.

There are some compensations in the spirited performances of Marianne Faithfull as the queen's mother, Judy Davis as her imperious lady-in-waiting, and an unusually straight-faced Steve Coogan as her advisor. The film effectively catches the downside of being a royal, with all the tedious pomp and lack of privacy that entails, although Coppola's film pales in that respect when compared to the far superior current release, The Queen.

Even an anachronistic soundtrack awash with New Romantic pop tunes proves quite amusing, as in a ball sequence where the dance music is Hong Kong Garden by Siouxsie and the Banshees. However, far too many scenes are shot in the style of 1980s music videos featuring Adam and the Ants (whose Kings of the Wild Frontier is on the packed playlist).

And the gimmicks run out of steam in this fluffy movie's plodding second half, well before the time finally arrives for the remark to be made that the common people should be left to eat cake.