The Virgin Suicides Movie Review

The Virgin Suicides is a dark comedy that embodies some twisted views on suburban family life and the true lack innocence of adolescence. First-time writer and director Sofia Coppola, daughter of Godfather creator Francis Ford Coppola, proves to us that she's not really an actress (see The Godfather Part III), but that she does have the family knack for provocative movie directing. The movie is based upon Jeffrey Eugenides' novel, The Virgin Suicides, a detective story about five sisters who mysteriously commit suicide and the investigation by four neighborhood boys who had fallen in love with them. Coppola, however, transforms the movie into her own allegory of five adolescent girls who suffer from ruthlessly suppressed lives, their desperate plea for self-expression, and the tragedy that besets their wretched existence.

Set in the mid-seventies, the plot follows the Lisbon family, with James Woods, a physics teacher at the local high school, as the scatter brained father, and Kathleen Turner as the uncommonly strict mother. Their five daughters are beautiful, naturally blonde, and the desire of every boy in the neighborhood. When the youngest, Cecilia, mysteriously attempts suicide, psychiatrist Danny DeVito recommends that she be allowed to interact more socially, especially with boys. So the Lisbon girls are introduced to the boys of the neighborhood, who have already been watching the girls from afar through half-opened window shades, binoculars, and telescopes. At a party in Cecilia's honor, the boys witness a tragedy that shocks them out of their wits. As a result, the Lisbons fall into a deep suppression shutting out the rest of the world by retreating into their own inner sanctum. It appears they will never recover until Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett), the high school heartthrob, pursues the unattainable Lux (Kirsten Dunst). He attempts to ask her to the prom, but the only way her mother will allow him to take Lux is if all the girls go together. For the first time, the girls will venture out of the home to interact socially in an environment other than school.

The movie begins as a lighthearted comedy with some great cameos from the likes of DeVito and town priest Scott Glenn (Backdraft). The tone, however, turns somber once the children are exposed to the worst of their suppression. Kathleen Turner as mom reverts to her Serial Mom days, making the kids burn their rock records and even withdrawing them from school. Reminiscent of 1987's Flowers in the Attic, the children are forced to fantasize through travel guides, imagining a different life in faraway lands. With every avenue of self-expression cut off, the girls suffocate in their misery and cry out for help to the boys in the neighborhood.

The film, with its large ensemble cast, is well acted, and director Coppola gets the best out of old pros Woods and Turner, while at the same time coaxing solid performances out of her young cast, especially Dunst and Hartnett. On the flip side, what the film lacks is solid character development. We don't learn enough about any of the neighborhood boys, or the strict Lisbon parents, or the mysterious Trip Fontaine. Constantly floating from one sequence of events to the next, I was left with too many unanswered questions as to whether the story was a mystery about what drove the girls off the edge, or how the neighborhood boys became so fascinated with them. Either way, it takes away some of the film's appeal with no "real" characters to latch on to in order to help you through such a bizarre and fantastic situation.

Despite its flaws, The Virgin Suicides is a success. It's an eerie look at life with a sick twist of fate for five beautiful sisters with the world as their oyster. With this film, Sofia Coppola will strike a presence for herself on the Hollywood scene -- no longer to be known for her infamous role as Michael Corleone's daughter. Ford Coppola was criticized for casting Sofia in that role, but now he will be praised for helping to produce his daughter's beautiful film.

Dance into the fire.


The Virgin Suicides Rating

" Good "

Rating: NR, 2000


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