Sunday, February 18, 2007

"Let them eat set design"

This was Sophia Coppola's response when told that viewers of her film, Marie Antoinette, were starving for character development, a story, a cohesive structure, and some semblance of a point.

This was truly one of the worst movies I have ever seen, as I will detail below. But let's start by saying what was good about this movie: the costumes, set design, locations, and cinematography are extravagant and gorgeous. If this had been a one hour History Channel HD special on the topic of "Wow, look how well we can recreate pre-revolution France when we have millions upon millions of dollars to spend", then ok, fine. I would watch the thing without complaint. Or maybe an elaborate set up for a still photography series to be published in a glossy Vanity Fair type mag.

But no, this was a big budget Hollywood film, probably released in 1000+ theaters. As such, it requires viewers, paying $8-$10 per ticket and $12-$15 per popcorn bucket, to be entertained for three hours (honestly, I don't know how long this movie was, but it seemed like 5 hours) and to leave the theater feeling some small level of enjoyment or at least with the feeling that they had gained some knowledge or insight. Or something.

I had been wanting to see this movie. I saw a trailer for it a few months ago, and the trailer made it look like it was a modern riff on an interesting historical tale. Kind of like A Knight's Tale or one of those Ann Hathaway movies from a few years ago. One of those movies that juxtaposes present day pop culture and modern sensibilities within a historical setting. I think the word I'm looking for is anachronistic. For example, A Knight's Tale has a soundtrack of pop music transposed onto a medieval story -- to good effect, according to me.

The Marie Antoinette trailer had pop music. And the clips in the trailer made it look like the point of the movie would be: imagine Marie Antoinette as a Mariah Carey/Lindsay Lohan/Paris Hilton type of spoiled diva princess character, and see how she flails and sasses around in Versailles before getting her head chopped off, all set to a Depeche Mode/Madonna/Prince soundtrack. Sort of like Mean Girls meets A Tale of Two Cities.

THAT might have been a decent 95 minute movie. Good for a few laughs and a couple of feel-good moments. But THAT is not this movie. My guess is that this is what the studio's marketing department did with the trailers and ads after their focus groups (and non-brain-dead studio execs) saw the film and went into convulsions.

As nearly as I can tell, this movie was supposed to be a dead serious biopic about Marie Antoinette. Here are some nuggets:

1. The first ONE HOUR of the movie is spent laboriously describing why, exactly, Marie is sent by the Empress of Austria to France, where she is married off to the French King's grandson, to be the eventually Queen of France, and how she is then expected to produce an heir to the throne with said grandson, and how she has a really hard time with the latter part of this because Louis XVI just isn't into having sex with her.

2. Why is Louis XVI not into having sex with her? After an hour of watching, we have no idea except that the presence of a "stable boy" is just barely alluded to.

3. To really, REALLY beat the idea into our heads that "Louis XVI isn't into having sex with Marie", we see the same scene (I mean, it is just short of identical) repeated six (6!) times of the two lying in bed, and Marie making the most perfunctory advances to him, and him rolling over and saying good night. I don't know that I've ever seen anything quite SO redundant outside of a Defensive Driving film.

4. So, after all of that, Marie flirts with a handsome Swiss guy. Briefly flirts with him. After some other stuff happens, we see Marie giving birth. Did the Swiss guy get her pregnant? I have not the slightest idea. But somewhere in there we see the Marie-Louis XVI bedroom scene again, and this time he inexplicably rolls on top of her, end of scene.

5. And after Marie gives birth the first time, she inexplicably gives birth several more times. Have Marie and Louis XVI unexplainedly solved their problems in the bedroom? Or is Marie catting around on him? Not even the smallest clue is given, and this after a ONE HOUR buildup of this storyline, during which, like, NOTHING else happened.

6. Then there are some lame-appearing parties, where the characters drink some champagne and wear fancy costumes. It is shown that some of the characters don't like some of the other characters. Who are these people? What are their motivations? The only two characters we even know the names of are Marie and Louis XVI, and the latter says about 18 words during the entire movie. In fact, this may be the only movie I've ever seen where there is no dialogue. I don't remember a single scene in which more than 4 lines were strung together. I mean, the main character barely even speaks!

7. At the very end, we find out that there exist such things as French citizens who do not live at Versailles, and these people are upset about something. What is their complaint? I couldn't tell, and so probably it isn't really very important. Seriously. If this movie were not based on actual historical events which I happen to know something of, I would not have the slightest clue why an angry mob formed outside the palace in the last 3 minutes of this movie. I don't think the French citizenry was ever mentioned prior to this, and we damn sure never saw any of them.

8. Also in the last 3 minutes we see some political-type persons urging Marie to flee with her children. She is adamant in refusing, stating that she must not leave her beloved Louis XVI. WHY? They've barely even spoken to each other, they have no discernible bond whatsoever, and we know virtually nothing about this guy other than he is (probably) a nit-wit. For that matter, we really don't know a hell of a lot about Marie either, other than she has very extravagant taste in shoes and desserts.

9. At the very end, we see Marie heading off in a carriage. There's no payoff. I for one would have been slightly mollified if each and every person appearing on the screen during the previous 3 hours were shown being horribly and graphically beheaded. Even if we were never shown why this was happening. Which we aren't, and which, unfortunately, they aren't. aaarrrggghhhhh!


Gleemonex said...

Whoa. Thanks for takin one for the team. You saw it, so I don't have to ...

bgirl said...

I had actually scheduled a specific date to watch this with my sister next weekend. Now we can go to Target, instead. Thanks dude.

HHL said...

ack! not sure i'm comfortable having that much influence. *shiver*