THE VIRGIN SUICIDES

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Movies Paul V. Wargelin Review by
Paul V. Wargelin
The Virgin Suicides
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SHOULD YOU?
TIP JAR
THE VIRGIN SUICIDES - 1999
American Zoetrope / Paramount Classics
Rating - UK: 15 / USA: R

Have you ever left a movie theater in a daze, with the feeling you just woke up from a dream? This is the impression THE VIRGIN SUICIDES will leave with many viewers as they pass through the exit doors and back into the wakeful world. THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides) is the feature directorial debut of Sophia Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford Coppola (DEMENTIA 13, DRACULA [1992]) and erstwhile child actress. It is a very worthy effort from the progeny of a renowned director, as it echoes elements of his technique, but is very much her own film both structurally and stylistically. It touches on elements similar to her early black and white short-film LICK THE STAR which dealt with a clique of high school girls and their inclusion and exclusion of certain others around them.

THE VIRGIN SUICIDES is a brief glimpse of five sisters aged thirteen to seventeen. The events of the film are seen from the perspective of a group of awe-struck boys who live nearby and is told retrospectively in a voiceover by one of the boys, now much older. He is obviously still full of questions when the film opens and it begins with him recounting the attempted suicide of Cecilia (Hanna Hall), the youngest of the sisters. The reason for this is pondered, but never known. No one knows much about the Lisbon sisters, as they are referred to, due to the fact that they are rarely seen outside their house. They attend the local public school where their father, played by James Woods (VIDEODROME, VAMPIRE$), teaches, but tend to stick to their own, not talking much to others. This is due primarily to their overbearing mother, played with exacting overprotective ness by Kathleen Turner (BODY HEAT, SERIAL MOM).

The Lisbon sisters are the epitome of poise and beauty and everything they do is seen as an enigma since no one can come close to them. On Cecilia's birthday, an exception is made in hopes of cheering her out of her suicidal depression. The boys are invited to the house for the party and for the first time come face to face with the girls in an intimate setting. The event is cut short by Cecilia succeeding in what she had failed at before. She jumps from the second story window and impales herself on the iron fence in the front yard.

We witness the aftermath through the boys perspective and find out that there was one person who did manage to penetrate the mystique of the Lisbon girls - the pot smoking rebel and ladies man Trip Fontain played by Josh Hartnett (THE FACULTY, HALLOWEEN H2O). He became enamored of Lux, Kirsten Dunst (INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, THE CROW: SALVATION, SPIDER-MAN, SPIDER-MAN 2), the oldest and most seductive of the sisters, and is spurned at every turn which only serves to heighten the appeal of this mysterious girl. His attempts at swooning her venture into the humorous as he tries to play the good boy and goes to her house for a leaden evening of TV with the parents.

THE VIRGIN SUICIDES is filled with stylistic digressions as the boys fantasize about what the girls do quarantined in their house. There are sequences that are truly inspired, but the film becomes uneven in places as the story progresses to the penultimate scene where Trip and a few of his friends are allowed to take the girls to prom. This whole portion of the film is a welcome release of freedom you feel for the girls, but what happens after the prom is a bit anti-climactic and quite unexplained.

A lot is left unexplained in THE VIRGIN SUICIDES which is very nearly the point for the most part, but there are instances where the viewer may become perplexed at the character's motivations. the film is supposedly told from the group of boys' point of view, but there are lapses in perspective which leave incongruities in the story. The gist of the viewpoint is to underline the fact that no one really knows what happened. Sophia Coppola has pulled off a wonderful voyeuristic feat and succeeds, for the most part, in the mystery of communicating the way some people imagine other people's lives.

The acting is intriguing at every point - from the quirkiness (and probably whipped) Woods' Mr. Lisbon, to Turner's tensely coiled Mrs. Lisbon to the coy sexuality of Kirsten Dunst (wow). The character's actions are only somewhat undermined by the lack of motivational explanation. Again, the plot relies on this device, but one craves a bit more even if embellished by the imagination of the boys.

THE VIRGIN SUICIDES is quite satisfying, though at times frustratingly sparse. The film was scored by the pop group Air and perfectly captures the hypnagogic mood. If you are a fan of seventies arena rock, it's all perfectly meshed here with the period. Sophia Coppola has achieved something very good, if not quite great. Hopefully her next project will have as much, if not more merit. When you wake up from THE VIRGIN SUICIDES you may feel a bit nonplused, but there is a good bit to ruminate on even if some parts don't quite gel. I give Virgin Suicides 3 out of 5 Shriek Girls.


This review copyright 1999 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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