"Dear God, guide us and protect us. We are too young to reign," says Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) upon discovering that he has become king of France. Standing next to him is his new wife, Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst), and Jesus Christ, is Louis right: The two of them look like the terrified teenagers they are: nervous, shy, disarmingly fresh-faced. They are not rulers.
Except they are. Sofia Coppola's follow-up to Lost in Translation is this, Marie Antoinette, and yes, it has all the stuff everyone thinks they know about that infamous queen: The "let them eat cake" thing, the decapitation thing, the thing about one woman embodying all that's wrong with monarchies. But Coppola sees Marie Antoinette's story differently: As a story of teenage euphoria, as a study of naiveté, as a tragedy of manners and history. And whether or not it's accurate, Coppola's rose-tinted version has beauty, verve, and spirit.
As Coppola splices together giddy montages and crams the soundtrack with everyone from New Order to the Strokes, she imbues portions of the film with the same blend of melancholy and exhilaration that made Lost in Translation so extraordinary. Marie Antoinette has some stunning moments, particularly in the beginning, as Marie Antoinette awkwardly meets Louis, or as she adeptly acclimates to a life of ridiculous luxury. And by the film's end—when, naturally, everything goes to shit—Coppola makes things startlingly affecting.
But in getting from start to finish, Coppola doesn't know what to do. Marie Antoinette's life is largely one of utter extravagance, based on an obliviousness to anything beyond Versailles' immaculately tended gardens: She gets drunk, fucks around, has loud parties, and generally acts like any other teenager. The film's entire second act follows a life that's both idyllic and pathetic, and it's perfect material for Coppola—but instead, Coppola hangs this portion of the film on Dunst, who's neither talented nor interesting enough to make it work. Thanks to Dunst's uneven portrayal, Marie Antoinette slowly becomes as indulgent and trivial as the actions of its subject.
But while Dunst is easy to dismiss, Marie Antoinette isn't. Coppola's too gifted a filmmaker, and even as she falters, she's nevertheless captivating. Yes, at times, Marie Antoinette is too soft, too draggy, too sloppy—but at others, it's gorgeous, and clever, and completely original. At its occasional, frustrating best, Marie Antoinette conveys Coppola's vision—a completely new version of someone that everyone thought they already knew.