The Virgin Suicides

2000, Movie, R, 97 mins


First-time writer/director Sofia Coppola doesn't quite nail the leering, voyeuristic quality that made Jeffrey Eugenides's novel such an unsettling experience, but she's nonetheless transformed the material into something intriguingly eerie: a morbid teen movie for melancholy adults. It's the mid-1970s, and over the course of a single year of life in tony Grosse Point, MI, all five teenage daughters of the Lisbons (James Woods, Kathleen Turner) will meet a tragic end. Smiling, golden-blond and entirely inaccessible, the Lisbon girls are the stuff of which teenage dreams — and, sometimes, lifelong obsessions — are made. The nightmare begins with the inexplicable suicide of the youngest Lisbon (Hanna Hall), is followed by the girls' house arrest by their desperate parents — prompted in large part by the aggressive sexuality of Lux (Kirsten Dunst) — and ends in utterly baffling tragedy. Contrary to the expectations of cynics who still blame Coppola for single-handedly ruining THE GODFATHER: PART III, this film is quite an achievement, and it didn't direct itself. Coppola wisely treats the sad fate of the Lisbon girls as more than a conventional mystery; her film is about mystery, specifically the mystery of adolescent girls in the eyes of adolescent boys. And if she mistakenly reads the creepy tone of book's first-person-plural narrator — the collective voice of the town's now-grown men, still haunted by the teenage girls they once coveted — as wistful nostalgia, other details are close to perfect. The soundtrack (Heart, ELO, Todd Rundgren, and an original score by the French duo Air) is spot-on and the costume design (pukka shells and knee-socks) is hideously accurate; the production design, guided by Bill Owens' celebrated photos of suburbia, offers a frightening vision of domestic hell (flocked wallpaper, sectional sofas and brown paneled rec rooms). Coppola has imagined a world that's quietly dying, like the town's diseased elm trees: OK on the outside but rotten at the core. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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