This just in: From my favorite critic at Salon.com. Stephanie Zacharek always gets it.
No one-time teenager has suffered more from the cruelty of history’s gossip mill than Marie Antoinette. When she was told the peasants were starving for lack of bread, the Marie Antoinette of lore shot back, “Let them eat cake!” — a great line, straight out of “Mean Girls,” except that the real Marie Antoinette never said it. Imported to France from her native Austria at age 14, she was the brokered bride of a future king, a bargaining chip with a womb. Her purpose was to cement peace between, and solidify the power of, the two nations. Marie Antoinette landed in a country, and a court, that eyed her with suspicion and contempt: She was a callow, uneducated foreigner, barely worth the disdain of oh-so-civilized France, and the fact that she couldn’t immediately produce an heir didn’t help. But because she was a future queen, she had access to — and availed herself of — the grand and costly buffet of opulence that had been the norm in Versailles long before she arrived. To paraphrase a lyric from another Lesley Gore song: You would shop, too, if it happened to you.
There is shopping in Sofia Coppola’s buoyant, passionately sympathetic dream-bio “Marie Antoinette” (which plays the New York Film Festival Friday night, and opens in New York and other cities on Oct. 20). But this is not — as you might have believed if you trusted the reviews out of Cannes, scrawled by critics from the garretlike confines of their hotel rooms as they clutched their Mao jackets tighter to protect themselves from the threat of beauty, pleasure and decadence — a movie about shopping. Nor is it a straightforward biopic or a history of the French Revolution (it never purports to be either of those things).
“Marie Antoinette” is Coppola’s silk-embroidered fantasy sampler of the inner life of a queen we can never really know: It’s a humanist comedy-drama decked out not in sackcloth but in ribbons — instead of flattering our ideas of our own virtuousness, it asks our sympathy for this doomed queen even as we can’t help envying her privilege.