The Virgin Suicides

Since it seems to be a part of every review for The Virgin Suicides, let's get it over with: Sofia Coppola was horrible in The Godfather Part III. She also appeared in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, but if you blinked you probably missed her. Thankfully, Coppola is much better as a director. Her first directorial effort, Lick the Star, garnered critical acclaim, and The Virgin Suicides should firmly cement her reputation as a capable director. The Virgin Suicides, based on the book by Jeffrey Eugenides, is a haunting story about the five beautiful Lisbon sisters and the neighborhood boys obsessed with them. The movie works thanks to Coppola, who uses a stunning mixture of sound and visuals to complement the story, turning it from what could have been a slow sullen march to a moody, thoughtful movie.

The entire movie looks almost like a dream. First, the setting of 1970s Michigan is near perfect, with its ugly furniture and retro clothes (Coppola also has experience as a designer for movies, which came in handy). Oranges and browns pervade the movie, and Coppola frequently uses a soft light or hazy camera, giving the scene an ethereal feel. The score is by Air, a French techno group, whose haunting theme Playground Love pervades the entire movie. The movie portrays the five sisters as mysteries. They share collective secrets between them, which no one else is privy to. All of them seem aloof without being haughty. In particular, Lux Lisbon (Kirsten Dunst, Dick, Drop Dead Gorgeous), the second youngest, is the most appealing, and the most indifferent towards boys. Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon (James Woods and Kathleen Turner) are partially responsible for this. Mr. Lisbon is a math teacher at the local high school, and Mrs. Lisbon is a homemaker. They are extremely conservative, giving their daughters many rules to follow. The narrator (Giovanni Ribisi, Boiler Room, The Mod Squad) is one of the neighborhood boys, who, twenty-five years later, suspects that those rules may be the reason for the events that followed.

Cecilia (Hanna Hall), the youngest daughter, attempts suicide at the beginning. A psychologist (Danny DeVito, The Big Kahuna, Drowning Mona) suggests that the girls have more contact with boys their age. Mrs. Lisbon is suspicious, but agrees. Local stud Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett, Here on Earth, The Faculty) attracts the eye of Lux, and they try to begin a relationship under the overprotective eyes of the Lisbons. Their later actions result in Mrs. Lisbon coming down hard and making all the rules stricter. The boys of the neighborhood can do nothing but watch as the objects of their affection disappear from their eyes. Coppola mixes in equal amounts of serious drama and surprisingly funny humor, resulting from the awkwardness of the Lisbon girls and their parents. The movie is funny because everyone has gone through those same situations in their teenage years.

Woods (Vampires, The General's Daughter) and Turner (Baby Geniuses, The Real Blonde) give amazing performances far outside their usual roles. Woods' Mr. Lisbon is a subdued, normal boring math teacher. Small snippets of the usual Woods character sneak out, but nowhere near their usual histrionic levels. Turner is also subdued, but her Mrs. Lisbon is also harsh when it comes to rules. She afraid to let go of her daughters, and deals with this by making strict rules to keep them, in her opinion, safe from harm. Dunst also outdoes herself, proving that, aside from the typical brainless teenybopper movie, she can pick a juicy role and act the hell out it. In fact, The Virgin Suicides can be thought of as a teen movie, although it is light years ahead of the other trash currently multiplying on screens like rabbits. This is the result of meticulous thought and care, and is well worth the effort.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hours, 37 minutes, Rated R for strong thematic elements involving teens.

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