The Virgin Suicides


Mesmerising: The surviving Lisbon girls keep the neighbourhood boys guessing...
dir-scr Sofia Coppola
with James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, Hanna Hall, Chelse Swain, AJ Cook, Leslie Hayman, Danny DeVito, Michael Pare, Scott Glenn, Giovanni Ribisi
Pathe 99/US 3 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
A black comedy blending teen suicide and coming of age, The Virgin Suicides is a stark and unsettling film, especially in its refusal to give the usual celluloid answers for what happens. It's also an extremely sure-handed filmmaking debut from Coppola, daughter of Francis. Her script alone is a marvel of subtlety and intelligence.

We're told the story from the perspective of a group of Michigan boys who have spent 25 years trying to interpret the events of a few months in the mid-70s when the five Lisbon daughters committed suicide. In their hormonal adolescence, they are obsessed with the girls, ages 13 to 17, who are mysterious, squeaky clean and kept from public view by their protective parents (Woods and Turner). But after the angelic youngest sister (Hall) commits suicide, things start coming undone. The second-youngest (Dunst) starts flirting with the boys at school, especially heartthrob Trip Fontaine (Hartnett). The parents tentatively loosen their grip ... only to have everything unravel.

The point of view keeps the film light and quite startlingly funny despite the serious subject matter. The boys simply can't find an answer to the events; they want to understand death. Woods and Turner are terrific, playing the stern mom and dad without ever reverting to stereotype (and Turner is especially good in this unglamorous character role). And in the focal point, the girls (Dunst, Hall, Cook, Swain and Hayman) are wonderful--mysterious, enchanting, elusive ... straight from a teen fantasy. Which is what this is all about, really: The search for truth and meaning behind the people and events that haunt us. In the end it's a bit sad and matter-of-fact, but it's also that rare gem that lets you think for yourself. Although it might leave you as perplexed as the boys.

[15--strong themes, language] 14.Apr.00
UK release 19.May.00; US release May.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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