MAY 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 5

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The Virgin Suicides

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Frequency: Plot-driven "summer" movie a welcome retreat from the pathetic norm.

Gladiator: Ridley Scott's perfect balance of horrific violence and Machiavellian intrigue

LAST MONTH
Oscars provide a revealing look into Hollywood's complex personality.

Waking the Dead: Even after death, the grip of love remains strong (and confusing).

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Send Us Feedback: Sofia Coppola's debut an unconventional trip from suburban mystique to teenage suicide

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Virgin TerritoryThe Virgin Suicides - James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst
Sofia Coppola's debut an unconventional trip from suburban mystique to teenage suicide

 
THE VIRGIN SUICIDES
Rating: A-

Starring James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, Danny DeVito. Directed by Sofia Coppola.

Rated R for strong thematic elements involving teens. Running time: 96m.


RELATED FILM
Also Starring Kirsten Dunst:

Interview with the Vampire (1994)
Nominated: 1995 Oscar for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Music, Original Score.
Buy It today


LAURA MACCABEE

Sofia Coppola's directorial debut turns the convention of the formula film inside out. The industry which traditionally produces typical plots that progress from incident to repercussion and from cause to effect, has left The Virgin Suicides untouched. In fact, Coppola gives away the effects and leaves us to find the causes. The title sums it up quite accurately; with this and the voice-over narrative we are fully briefed on the coming deaths of the five Lisbon sisters. The film itself isn't a clear, deductively reasoned sequence of events. Instead the audience is presumed to have the logic of an adolescent male trying to make sense of the seemingly magical, mystical girls.

Kathleen Turner plays a repressive mother who forbids her children to date, ride in cars, and, after the death of the youngest girl, even to leave the house. Turner's performance as a soft spoken, weak but firm mother who is scared of everything including her own responsibilities is wonderful. This role is drastically different from any she has played previously, and Turner's restraint and lack of self-awareness are refreshing.

Mr. Lisbon (James Woods) teaches math at the parochial school that all five of his daughters attend. But such a perspective neither puts him in touch with the lives of teenagers nor helps him contend with his wife's rigidity. He, too, is in denial that his daughters are getting older, and Woods pulls this off fantastically. At one point he talks to a plant in a window at the school, rambling on about the need for light for photosynthesis. He is interrupted by a fellow faculty member who mentions that the Lisbon girls have not attended school for two weeks. Mr. Lisbon does not explain that his children are instead locked in the house, clad in pajamas, bored out of their minds, and suffering for the sins of just one sister.

The focus of most of the film -- and that of all of boys at the school -- is Lux, played by Kirsten Dunst (Drop Dead Gorgeous, Interview with the Vampire). During a heavily chaperoned homecoming dance, Lux sneaks off to the football field with the dreamy, pot-smoking Tripp Fontaine (Josh Hartnett). Her return home the next morning marks the beginning of the previously mentioned, indefinite house-arrest. Hartnett perfectly captures a post-awkward, leader-of-the pack football player who falls for the one girl who is not interested (at first). Dunst is aloof, shy and strong-willed all at the same time. She is more than credible as naughtily-innocent and she certainly looks the part.

The mysterious existence of the girls is matched with some eerie, dreamlike shots and a few flashbacks. These are used sparingly, so as not to over stress what is already strange. Seasonal change, which either mimics or determines the moods of the film, are shown as they happen. Coppola actually films the leaves on the trees changing, falling, disappearing. This, at least, makes sense.

We remain clueless throughout the film, as do all the boys. The deaths are sad, obviously, but Coppola does not explain this to us. She does not cram the story with melodrama and emotion and tears; she merely reports what happens so that the tragedy is fresh and our own, as first hand to us as to the gossipy neighbors.



LAURA MACCABEE is a staff movie reviewer for Renaissance Online Magazine.

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