Despite the fact that she’s both richer and more successful than any of us can imagine, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Sofia Coppola. If it wasn’t bad enough to have one of the late 20th Century’s greatest film directors as a father, ensuring that any initial forays she made into cinema would be dismissed as merely “Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter imitating daddy”, she first came into the public eye as a late replacement in one of her father’s own films. Cast in place of Winona Ryder in The Godfather: Part III, Sofia soon became by far the most criticised part of a much-criticised film. Her stilted, wooden acting slowing down and damaging a film which already risked much in trying to live up to its two far superior predecessors.
Then, by the late 1990s, she retreated behind the camera to become, like her father, a director. Her first movie, Lick the Star, came and went with little attention – perhaps because not only was Sofia the daughter of a great director, so hardly likely to live up to her father’s talent, but also she was female, and the number of good female film directors can be counted on one hand. While her second film, 1999’s The Virgin Suicides, received a number of rave reviews, hidden amidst the praise were no small number of snide remarks about the amount of help and advice she received from her father and her then husband, Being John Malkovich director Spike Jonze.
Now, of course, Sofia is best known as the director of the hugely popular Lost in Translation, a film that finally shook off the long shadow cast by her father, winning her a Best Director Oscar nomination – only the third female director to receive such recognition from the Academy. As writer as well as director, none could argue that the success of the film was down to anyone but her.
So now she has to try and live up to the massively elevated expectations that Lost in Translation has created for all her subsequent films. Whereas before it was “she’ll never be as good as her father”, now it is “she’ll never be as good as Lost in Translation”. When news came through of this new project being booed by French critics at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, you could almost warm your hands on the glee being emitted by film writers looking for a chance to shoot this rising star down in flames.
Was the booing at Cannes deserved, or was it merely a case of French critics not liking an American take on one of the most sensitive periods of their history? Marie-Antoinette was, after all, the wife and Queen of King Louis XVI, the man on the throne as the French Revolution kicked off. Indeed, many historians have pointed to her extravagant and eccentric lifestyle as being one of the key grievances of the revolutionaries, who took great pleasure in depriving her of her head with the guillotine.
While certainly not an overly straight historical biopic, with a punky, contemporary feel layered over the central storyline and a pop music soundtrack rather than the traditional classical score used in most period dramas, this is by no means worthy of boos. Kirsten Dunst may have kept her American accent – the cause of much of the French contempt – but puts in a solid, considered performance in the lead, with a talented supporting cast amidst sumptuous sets and glorious costumes that, combined with Coppola’s great eye for a shot, make this a visual feast. Though the historical accuracy may be debatable, and American accents always jar in such settings, this is nonetheless a fine, engaging movie. Ignore the boos of the Cannes critics – this is an intelligent and assured outing by a director who deserves to be known as more than simply Francis’ daughter.