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:: Virgin Suicides

Much speculation surrounded the first directorial effort by Sofia Coppola, daughter of the great Francis Ford Coppola. The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides, happens to be Sofia’s favourite novel, and she felt it appropriate to bring the adaptation to the screen. Therefore, the desire was absolute in being responsible to the source material and in her sheer love for the story.
  Sofia’s return to the movies, in this new role, is something to savour as she skilfully guides the viewer through the teen angst/black comedy situations of the film. Set in Michigan in the mid-1970s, The Virgin Suicides gets going strongly, combining the naive, but unaffected, perspective of a young teenager, Cecilia Lisbon (Hannah Hall), as told wryly by the narrator (done by an adult Tim in flashback mode). Young Tim, we learn through the film, is a neighbour of the Lisbon family. Young Cecilia had been to see a doctor who expresses amazement that she attempted to commit suicide. Her reply is an uncompromising as it can get. “I can tell you’ve never been a 13 year-old girl”. This sets a tone of honesty when we meet the rest of Cecilia’s family. There are four other beautiful sisters, Lux (Kirsten Dunst), Bonnie (Chelsea Swain), Mary (AJ Cook), and Therese (Leslie Hayman). Therese is the eldest at seventeen. The teenagers live in an upper-class suburb, yet endure an over-protective mother (Kathleen Turner) who never lets them out at night. Mr Lisbon (James Woods) just goes along with whatever his wife says, yet he is keen to be the peacemaker, and not crack down on any possible rebellion by his daughters. It’s not an abnormal situation for the times, though. Cecilia’s eventual suicide surprised everyone, including their neighbours. Young Tim (Jonathan Tucker) and his friends are completely infatuated by the Lisbon girls, and feel her loss. As the events unfold, the Lisbons respond firstly by closing ranks, then by trying to open up and act normally and ultimately by trying to shut out all threats. It doesn’t work.
When the school year begins again, the narrator focuses on the pursuit of the most nubile Lisbon sister, Lux, by Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett), the snake-hipped school stud. Trip manages to persuade her parents to let their daughters go out to the homecoming dance. Kirsten Dunst is perfectly cast as the beautiful, tempestuous Lux. She really illuminates the screen, and every shot of her is sparkling. The school uniform can’t hide her youthful sexuality. Her falling for the class heartthrob shakes her sly confidence. Perhaps this is a sign of the flawed beauty and her impact as an icon of the film. There are touching moments later when the girls, in a collective depression due to a wrongdoing on the night out, receive sympathy from the neighbourhood boys in their favourite songs being played to them by telephone.
  Coppola’s film is darkly comic at times, but it is never ironic about the music of the 1970s or the feelings of the teenagers whose stories are being told. The acting is generally very good, with particular credit to James Woods for a fine supporting role. He is an exceptional actor and he captures the eccentricity of his situation perfectly. Sofia Coppola should be proud of her directorial debut. Her visual sense is stunning and her subtlety is grand. Like a dream, not everything is clear at first, and everything is open to interpretation. The haunting musical score by French retro-disco band Air is wonderfully impacting. The Virgin Suicides is an artistic film and Coppola evokes the spirit of the film’s period and setting. It is one of the most intelligent and imaginative films that I have seen in a while, and is highly recommended.