The Films of Sofia Coppola
The Virgin Suicides
Lost in Translation
Marie Antoinette (October 18/06)
Despite the inclusion of several impressive performances and visuals that are undeniably compelling, Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette never quite becomes anything more than a mildly entertaining curiosity - something that can be attributed to Coppola's meandering screenplay and penchant for long, dialogue-free sequences. The end result is a film that's certainly always interesting on a purely visceral level, but there's ultimately little here to hook even the most die-hard history buff. The movie, which stars Kirsten Dunst as the title character, touches upon most of the major events in Marie Antoinette's life - including her marriage to Louis XVI and her eventual downfall during the French Revolution - though Coppola deftly avoids infusing the proceedings with the style and tone of a typical biopic. Instead, the filmmaker stresses a far more avant-garde sort of vibe; exposition and character development are kept to a minimum, with the emphasis placed on Marie's day-to-day routine and the boredom that ensues. In that respect, Coppola does an effective job of capturing the monotony of the extraordinarily stringent protocol that Marie must follow at all times (ie there's even an elaborate procedure in place for getting dressed). But the leisurely pace and overall lack of context (Marie's cronies and royal associates come and go with hardly any explanation as to their purpose) ultimately keep the viewer at arm's length, and it's consequently virtually impossible to actually care about any of this.
The Bling Ring (July 23/13)
A typically underwhelming effort from Sofia Coppola, The Bling Ring follows several teenagers (including Emma Watson's Nicki and Katie Chang's Rebecca) as they decide to rob the homes of various celebrities. There's ultimately little here that wholeheartedly works, as Coppola has infused the proceedings with a superficial feel that grows more and more exhausting as time progresses - with the substance-free vibe proving especially problematic in terms of the central figures. The lack of character development among the movie's protagonists ensures that they remain one-dimensional and hopelessly interchangeable from start to finish, which, in turn, prevents the viewer from working up an ounce of interest in or sympathy for their illicit exploits. It's hard to deny, however, that the inherently compelling setup results in an atmosphere that is, at the very least, watchable, with the novelty of the premise ensuring that the movie fares best in its comparatively involving opening half hour. (Coppola's less-than-ambitious screenplay paves the way for a second half that's almost infuriatingly repetitive, unfortunately.) The inclusion of a few admittedly striking sequences - eg a montage of the protagonists being arrested - goes a long way towards buoying the viewer's interest on an all-too-sporadic basis, but it's ultimately clear that Coppola's lackadaisical, unfocused modus operandi cements The Bling Ring's place as a pointless art-house misfire.
A Very Murray Christmas
The Beguiled (June 27/17)
Based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan, The Beguiled follows wounded Civil War-era soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell) as he’s taken in by the headmistress (Nicole Kidman’s Martha) of a small, isolated girls school – with the movie detailing the tension (sexual and otherwise) that ensues between McBurney and the various women in the house (including Kirsten Dunst’s Edwina and Elle Fanning’s Alicia). It’s perhaps not surprising to note that writer/director Sofia Coppola, as tends to be her modus operandi, has infused The Beguiled with a less-than-eventful atmosphere and a deliberate, meandering pace, which effectively does ensure that the movie, despite its strong performances and almost haunting visual sensibility, is utterly unable to capture and sustain one’s attention for much of its first half. And while the somewhat amusing nature of the film’s premise keeps things partially interesting – it’s difficult not to get a kick out of these women of different ages essentially throwing themselves at Farrell’s character – The Beguiled remains a fairly tough slog until it marches into its comparatively electrifying third act. The movie’s transformation from lackadaisical drama to something akin to a thriller is unexpected, to be sure, and Coppola does an impressive job of peppering the narrative with a handful of palpably tense sequences (including a riveting dinner scene near the end). It’s apparent, ultimately, that The Beguiled, despite a decidedly erratic sense of momentum, stands as one of Coppola’s best films, with the movie’s success due in no small part to Coppola's genre-shifting approach and to the stellar efforts of an exceedingly eclectic cast.