Feb 9, 2015

Review: The Virgin Suicides (1999)

You know what else Sofia Coppola was doing in 1999, before releasing what was her directorial debut in The Virgin Suicides? Believe it or not, she had a supporting role in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace as one of Queen Amidala's handmaidens, Saché. Yeah, it's pretty easy to forget that because she's hardly there at all. Somehow this was enough to earn her a second Razzie nomination after a Razzie win for her supporting role in The Godfather Part III in 1990.

To be honest, I don't think it's a very fair nomination because there isn't very much acting to actually judge with a role like Saché. This is just the Razzies piling it on like they usually do because it's easy. It's true that Sofia Coppola didn't make too many friends with her performance in The Godfather Part III and that's probably why she pretty much stopped acting since then. Appearing in Star Wars was just to do a solid for "uncle" George Lucas who is a longtime friend of her father Francis Ford Coppola.


Genre: drama, romance
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Produced by: Francis Ford Coppola, Julie Costanzo, Dan Halsted, etc.
Written by: Sofia Coppola
Music by: Air
Running time: 97 minutes
Production company: American Zoetrope, Eternity Pictures, Muse Productions, etc.
Distributed by: Paramount Classics, Pathé Distribution, TiMe Filmverleih, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $9,000,000
Box office: $10,409,377 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, Michael Paré, A. J. Cook, Hanna R. Hall, Leslie Hayman, Chelse Swain, Jonathan Tucker, Noah Shebib, Anthony DeSimone, Lee Kagan, Robert Schwartzman, Scott Glenn, Danny DeVito, Hayden Christensen, Kristin Fairlie



It's 1974 and the Lisbon family live in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Mr. (James Woods) and Mrs. Lisbon (Kathleen Turner) are steadfast Christians and they keep a tight rein on their five teenage daughters. Despite being so sheltered, the youngest daughter named Cecelia (Hanna Hall) tries to commit suicide. At a loss of what to do, Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon try to do what they can to prevent it from ever happening again.


The first thing to keep in mind about The Virgin Suicides is that it's an adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides' novel of the same name. The book is told from a pretty unique perspective and Sofia Coppola maintains that. There are four neighbourhood boys who just can't get enough of the Lisbon girls. They watch them, think about them and they talk about them amongst themselves all the time.

The thing is, they don't know how to talk to the Lisbon girls or how reach out to them. The Lisbon girls are on this pedestal in the mind of the boys and they can only manage to look at them from a distance. Coppola puts the viewer in the shoes of those four neighbourhood boys quite well through Giovanni Ribisi's narration and what The Virgin Suicides becomes is in fact a coming-of-age story.

We get the boy side of the story as well as the girl side. The Lisbon girls experience a lot of typical firsts after their parents loosen up a bit and the boys start to see the world through a different set of goggles as a result of their obsession with the Lisbons. The Virgin Suicides can be funny, but it can also be quite sad when it wants to be. I guess that shouldn't be too surprising with the title that it has.

Fourteen year-old Lux (Kirsten Dunst) is the Lisbon girl who is focused on the most and is definitely the most interesting anyway. She's rebellious in the ways she can be and her parents don't really catch on to everything that she does. Her relationship with Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett) is one of the highlights of the film (Spoilers) and ends up being quite heartbreaking. (End Spoilers)

I ended up liking The Virgin Suicides more and more as it went on. The direction felt a little bit flat in the early goings truth be told, but that's not to say that there weren't some memorable scenes at all. Things got more interesting though, making TVS a movie that finishes stronger than it started for me at least.

I also really liked what Sofia Coppola has to say at the end of The Virgin Suicides in regards to high society. What's also clear is that the four neighbourhood boys grow from their experiences with the Lisbons in what is a thoughtful and bittersweet way. Again, this is where TVS shines. You're put in the shoes of these young boys who by the end of the film are clearly young men. Their lives have been enriched by the Lisbons and so have ours after watching The Virgin Suicides.

Sofia Coppola's directorial debut isn't perfect, but it's an amazing start. The soundtrack deserves a special mention as well. While I did think it was a bit flat at first, The Virgin Suicides grew on me as time went on. The 70's production looks the part and it also features some great performances from James Woods and Kathleen Turner. For a coming-of-age story, TVS is easily one of the best.

On an interesting note, Hayden Christensen had a bit part in TVS . I didn't even notice him truth be told until I saw his name in the cast on IMDb after I finished the movie. Just had to mention it though because he of course went on to star as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode II and III. Did the Sofia Coppola connection help? It just may have.



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