Sofia Coppola’s new film Marie Antionette opens with Gang of Four’s spiky, anthemic “Natural’s Not In It” —talk about an audacious opening salvo. The song’s lyrics cut through the ridiculous, rococo overindulgence of the mise en scène, offering a tacit, taunting indictment of the titular Queen and indeed, of her entire court: “The problem of leisure/What to do for pleasure…” The lyrics —spit out in short, caustic bursts while Dunst’s child queen, playing dress-up for the camera, winks and lolls seductively— momentarily cast her in a critical light, underscoring her come-hither silliness and fatally unreflective self-indulgence with critical, wounding ripostes: “Your relations are all power/we all have good intentions/but with strings attached. “ By the time the song reaches its apex, denoted by the repeated refrain“dream of the perfect life,” I’m filled with hope that I’d been wrong about the film looking like the thinnest of tissue-thin fripperies. With Gang of Four deployed so cannily early on, I dearly hope that the rest of the film —and its playfully anachronistic soundtrack—will follow suit, deftly skewering the excess on display.
Alas, starry-eyed Coppola’s no Derek Jarman. Warning bells go off as soon as an early, moving scene of the young, unhappy child bride breaking down into fitful sobs is followed toot-sweet with a gaudy, cloying scene of court gluttony scored unironically with —you guessed it— Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy.” Good-bye, emotional involvement, hello music video!
Taken on its own merits (ie, as a lush, gorgeously art-directed music video) the film works surprisingly well. Ask for anything more than puddle-deep, however, and you soon realize that the film’s tone veers dangerously close to a mash-note from one idle-rich director to her peeps. (From Louis XVI to Louis Vuitton !) Although the endless scenes of gluttony and excess began to curdle for me well before the peasants stormed the Bastille, Coppola’s camera takes a fairly neutral view. Her authorial intent is as muted as Dunst’s curiously flat, California-drawled dialogue.
A disappointment, all things considered.
But what a soundtrack.
PS: I want the string version of “Hong Kong Garden” that’s featured in the movie! Anyone?
PPS: Throwing some non-soundtrack Adam and the Ants in there for good measure.