I look forward to Sophia Coppola’s sense of color and attention to detail. I hope next time she fares better and her talent is put into something a bit more worthwhile than her film Marie Antoinette.
No doubt, it’s a beautiful movie packed with eye candy but Kirsten Dunst was wooden and although I didn’t mind the modern music, I was irked by the historically inaccurate, overly sympathetic portrayal of Marie Antoinette and the suggested connection between France’s involvement in the Revolutionary War and her death.
Last year I found a BBC series called The Supersizers Eat…. Two modern friends, a food critic and a broadcaster, dress in historically accurate clothes and eat historically accurate food. In the French Revolution episode, the depiction of Marie and Louis is quite different, and I would wager to say closer to the truth. Both offerings contain large amounts of food but only one manages to make it interesting.
As portrayed in the film, Marie goes through her life attending parties, spending time with friends, shopping for clothes, and gorging herself on junk food just as we are lead to believe all young girls do no matter when they lived. This artificial sense of frivolity set the tone of the film but contained no joy, although I think it was meant to, leaving me with a rather bad taste and wondering just what was the point.
For me, one of the failures of the film was ending as they left Versailles. Supersizers begins in the 1780’s and goes through the time leading up to and after their deaths. Most people know about Marie at court and the immortal phrase she never spoke “let them eat cake.” But what then? Have you heard of their house arrest? Their disguise as servants and failed escape attempt?
The focus of Supersizers is on food and the historical references are concentrated but, unlike the film, the broader context of history applied allowed for a greater scope of character. Audiences don’t want a dry history lesson but Coppola failed to impart a sense of unique historical importance, choosing instead to dilute Marie so as to make her seem timeless, and did a great disservice to the wider possibility of the character. Ordinarily, biopics take on too much and are forced to glaze over large segments of time, leaving the subtle touches of quiet or reflective moments on the cutting room floor. So I genuinely thought I would like this film because of Coppola’s gentle pacing and as each minute ticked by, I still wanted to like it and hoped it would get better.
It didn’t. I enjoyed the moments which felt painterly but resented the impression I needed a history major to explain the references. The same feeling arose at the introduction of each new character. I wanted to know why they mattered, why did any of it matter?
Marie is portrayed at first as immature and bored, then filled more with with fancy and fantasy than reality. Finally, somehow, she is resigned and knowing. But the film never waivers outside of her own perspective to show why we should care. Had Coppola expanded the iris of historical context, had her view been a mature perspective on Marie’s behavior instead of a promotion of it, the film may of had something to say. Instead it spent it’s time flashing colors, textures and costume as if it were an advertisement for Laura Ashley.
As they live through the the week the Supersizers, Sue and Giles, have various exploits between meals. Sue addresses Marie Antoinette’s introduction of the flushed toilet to Versailles as well as her bathing etiquette, as she takes one herself, and sneaks in a quick lesson on the history of the croissant. In their period clothing, they interact with demonstrations of electricity, just as the King and Queen did. Only after re-watching Giles’ banquet solely featuring the not yet accepted potato, Sue’s tea at Marie’s Versailles country farm, and their private dinner party’s swift mention of the invention of mayonnaise, was I able to look back at Coppola’s film and examine why it should have been interesting. But by then I was too busy enjoying Supersizers again and vowing to never looking at mayo without thinking “Vive la France!”
Supersizers is filled with humor, commentary, trivia and most interesting – the effects of the lifestyle on their health. What I love about the show is how much they care about, dissect, tear down, and praise food all while gnawing on mule steaks, beef and corn in gelatin, or eggs in a pig bladder. Coppola’s Marie Antoinette presented more perfectly designed delectables, more luxurious treats, bite after bite of colorful and sumptuous sweets but more isn’t better and in the end that’s all the film was; plenty of colorful, sugary content but no substance.