Now I'm willing to live by my assessment that her previous film Lost in Translation is a work of genius, and by damn I was determined to like this movie. It has the usually excellent Jason Schwartzmann, Shirley Henderson, Rip Torn and Steve Coogan in it, features eye-bath extraordinaire Kirstin Dunst in various states of semi-undress and has an indie soundtrack that's just off-kilter and not obvious enough to be "interesting". She even kept Kevin Shields (ex-My Bloody Valentine) on as consultant on the score.
The movie looks great (though you will feel ill after all the cake scarfing you'll be forced to witness), and it's hard to really fault any of the actors (for example Schwartzmann is OK, does what he's asked, but the role is just such a waste of his talents), although Dunst is a bit "vanilla" when trying to carry a film herself. But on the whole it doesn't really work. It is very slow in places, but I don't think it's that that finally condemns it.
It's the fact that there are too many dissonant notes played here: the mix of accents, the use of indie music (some 80s, some 90s, some contemporary), then the use of classical music, the fact characters are one moment sounding like Generation X-ers, the next 18th century boys and girls. I suppose it's like the difference between good avant garde music and bad, John Zorn being a case in point, there's a fine line between just right (Pain Killer) and too much (Naked City), and this is just a bit too much.
That said there are some great moments: the use of both a classical and the actual versions of Siouxsie and the Banshees' Hong Kong Garden for the masked ball is very exciting and effective (it is one of the overlooked masterpieces of modern pop music I think), also the use of Kings of the Wild Frontier for the sex scene, captures the decadent feel of the time and the moment.
My other gripe is that you cannot show someone to be sympathetic when they're living in such luxury and decadence oblivious to "their subjects'" poverty and starvation. Anyone who thinks "poor Marie" (to quote Nick Lowe) is at best a fool.
So I can't recommend this, but I think it is a brave effort to do something new with the period drama. It just doesn't quite come off.