The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides is a bit of a strange film but the production and especially the cast make it worth while to have in your collection

It seems to be a trend in Hollywood to tackle depressing subjects in films today. Fortunately for us in the audience, Paramount has at least gotten talent involved in The Virgin Suicides to set it above the rest.

The film, The Virgin Suicides, was written and directed by Sofia Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford Coppola (and cousin of Nicholas Cage) proving that talent runs deep in this family. The Virgin Suicides chronicles the lives of the Lisbon girls, These five sisters are doomed to take their own lives. The narrator of this tale is a boy that lived near the girls. It is told in retrospective detail from a point some 25 years after the events. The mood is set of The Virgin Suicides right from the first spoken words, "Cecilia was the first to go’. The five Lisbon girls were the natural center of the local boy’s attention. All five were pretty, blonde and daughters of the local math and science teacher. With all this going for them everyone wondered what would drive them to suicide. After a failed attempt at killing herself young Cecilia summed it up, "you were never a 13 year old girl". It is little moments like this that makes The Virgin Suicides so riveting. The Lisbon home was a very religious one. Formal prayers said at mealtime, pictures and statues of saints all around the house even in the girl’s bedrooms. The parents, played by James Woods and Kathleen Turner, provide a stark counterpoint to the girls. In this home there is a generation gap so wide nothing could span it.

The cast in The Virgin Suicides was well chosen. Kirsten Dunst as Lux, the most forward sister, truly outdoes herself. While her roles as a child were anything but usual, Interview with the Vampire for example, here Dunst has a chance to explore a very different character. Lux is the wold one of the five sisters. She smokes in the bathroom at school, drinks at the big dance and is the most attracted to boys. In contrast to this is Leslie Hayman who plays Therese. She is by far the more subdued sister. Older than Lux but far more reserved. James Woods as the father was also a different roles for this most accomplished actor. His Mr. Lisbon is a milquetoast, dominated by his wife he tries his best to run the house but gives in to his wife at almost every point. The audience is more used to Woods playing the dominate, very in charge character. Its good to see him take such a different part. There are some interesting cameos appearances in this film. Look for Danny De Vito as Celica’s psychiatrist and Michael Pare as Lux’s boyfriend as a man in the present time.

Freshman director Sofia Coppola does an excellent job of holding The Virgin Suicides together. The choice of presenting the movie as a tale narrated by a boy that knew the girls is far more effective for the audience than if the story was told through the eyes of one of the girls. That would have given it the feel of a Lifetime Network movie of the week or an after school special. By using the voice over looking back at the events the audience feels more of empathy to the story. Since the narrator is really an outsider to the events he doesn’t wind up with the answers or any special insight to the tragedy. I found this better at the end to leave the questions in the mind of the audience than if all was suddenly made clear. Coppola does not imitate her famous father’s directorial style. She has a gentler, more subdued style albeit with some rather strange little effects thrown in. For example, there is the scene that the girls are about to leave for the big home coming dance. We see a brief x-ray view of Lux’s dress revealing she has written the name of the boy on her panties. This was very contrived and did break the mood of the scene. It was also done before in Tarentino’s Dawn to Dusk. The Virgin Suicides did manage to capture the look and feel of a 70’s movie with the split screen and fast cuts. For a first effort it wasn’t bad, just don’t compare her to her father.

The disc is well done and up to contemporary standards of audio and video. The Dolby 5.1 audio is incredibly clear although there is not much use to the sub woofer and rear speakers. The only use they have are some ambient sound effects. The anamorphic 1.85:1 is free of defect and clear even in scenes that transit from light to dark. The only extra of note is a making of featurette, 2 theatrical trailers and a music video. I would have enjoyed hearing a commentary from Coppola on this disc. The Virgin Suicides is a bit of a strange film but the production and especially the cast make it worth while to have in your collection.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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