[box cover]

The Virgin Suicides

Sofia Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford, recently emerged out from under his shadow with a movie of her own, a self-scripted adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides's The Virgin Suicides, which is not only a credible writing and directing debut, but also one of the best recent films about teenagers in a spate of endless and mostly indistinguishable teen comedies. Set in Wisconsin around 1975, The Virgin Suicides is about the Lisbon sisters and the boys who love them. Eugenides's book was distinguished for being a novel narrated by a group, a collective pronoun, instead of a single person. Here, young Coppola has adopted the notion of the narrator, but confined the voice to the more conventional, but easier to handle, single person (the unseen Giovanni Ribisi). He is one of many (unnamed) neighborhood admirers of the mysterious, close-knit Lisbon sisters. Their dad (James Woods) is the math teacher at their school. Mom (Kathleen Turner) is a rather fragile and religious housewife. The girls are a little difficult to tell apart upon a first viewing (which is part of the point), but they consist of the exotically named Lux (a randy Kirsten Dunst), Cecilia (Hanna R. Hall), Bonnie (Chelse Swain), Mary (A.J. Cook) and Therese (Leslie Hayman). After her first unsuccessful attempt at suicide, Cecilia's attending doctor minimizes her angst. "You're not even old enough to know how hard life gets," he tells her. "Obviously, you've never been a 13-year-old girl," is her reply, and the movie endorses her inwardness and mysterious dissatisfaction with the world. The narrator and his friends stand by helplessly as the girls lose one sister and continue on as a distinct unit at school supporting one another; and they continue to observe from afar as the school stud — the wonderfully named Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett) — seduces Lux and abandons her to public humiliation. Her mother's response is to ground all the sisters. Then one mysterious night, when the boys seem to finally receive outreach from the isolated sisters, something truly dismal happens, something that remains mysterious for the rest of the boys' lives and within the movie itself. Coppola, with the help of cinematographer Edward Lachman's lush images, creates a fever-dream of adolescent near-perfection. The girls are captured as if in a Sally Mann photograph, forever young and mysterious, and fantasy moments are inserted in a landscape that has the surface beauty but the inner rottenness of an early David Lynch film, where nothing is what it seems, and nothing is truly understandable. The acting is superb throughout — Dunst does particularly well with a difficult (and for her very different) part, and Hartnett does a splendid job of capturing a high school's typical cool dude of the era: super-thin, aviator glasses, long hair over a lanky body that he moves in an odd, swaying rhythm, like Jim Morrison about to growl out the next verse. Danny DeVito and Scott Glenn also have cameos. But these surfaces beauties don't mask how genuinely disturbing this movie is. Making its debut at Sundance in early 2000, Suicides, budgeted at $6 million, went on to make just over $4 million in the U.S. Nevertheless, it remains an impressive debut. Paramount has done a great job on the presentation and a moderately good job on the supplements for their DVD edition with a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) that captures the soft, misty, dream-like quality of Lachman's photography. Audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1, but extras are modest. They include a 20-minute "making-of" featurette shot by Coppola's mother Eleanor — which is, by the way, terribly and inconsistently photographed, and which makes the film sound like a family affair, what with Sofia Coppola's dad on the set and various cousins and brothers hired as cast or crew. Also on hand are the (scratchy) theatrical trailer (the box says there are two, but there is only one), the music video "Playground Love" by Air, a brief gallery of photos, and credits for the DVD. The static but musical menu offers 16-chapter scene selection. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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