"The Virgin Suicides" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
High school and teenage adolescence is one of the hardest times in everyone's lives, especially if you're a teenage girl according to Cecilia Lisbon (Hanna R. Hall) when asked why she tried to end her life. Sofia Coppola's directorial debut, "The Virgin Suicides", which is based upon the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, perfectly captures the illusion of teenage girls through the eyes of boys the same age. In a film that is nearly identical to the source material, Coppola delivers a beautifully tragic film that details the lives of the unfortunate Lisbon girls.
The film opens up on Cecilia trying to take her own life, wanting to leave the cruel world behind once and for all. When she eventually succeeds on her second attempt during one of the few social gatherings her parents (Kathleen Turner, James Woods) throw, it sends her whole family through a loop, especially her sisters: Lux (Kirsten Dunst), Therese (Leslie Hayman), Mary (A.J. Cook), and Bonnie (Chelsie Swain).
Through the eyes of the local boys in town, their story is presented in a format that makes the story seem more imaginative than real. The novel by Eugenides has the POV of a group of boys who are reflecting on what they witnessed when they were younger and head-over-heels in love with the five mysterious girls that lived across the street. I think this is perfectly conveyed through the narration by Giovanni Ribisi, even going as far as to lift some of the lines from the book itself.
I think Coppola made a smart choice by following the direction of the book and making the movie more about the boys than the girls. How much of what these young boys remember is actually true? Sure, they make the parents seem like a major reason as to the Lisbon girls' fates at the end of the film, but how much is real and how much is simply childhood innocence? Maybe the parents did the best they could to raise five rambunctious girls? However, the film also makes us question over whether it is all true, and the parents were cruel people and tortured the poor girls to their deaths? I think that is the magic in the mystery behind this film, which I think Coppola captures perfectly throughout the film.
In terms of the performances, Coppola was able to land five amazing actresses to portray these iconic sisters, especially Dunst. This is during the time of her finding fame as a childhood star and her success as Mary-Jane Watson in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" trilogy, and she just shows how great of an actress she always has been. When watching this film, I don't see Dunst, but rather Lux on the screen. She is able to sell that she is this person so well. One major complaint I do have though concerning the sisters here is it is very hard to distinguish which sister is who throughout the movie. The book did this at times, but I think each sister had different qualities that set them apart from one another. Here, the only ones we truly know and are familiar with are Lux and Cecilia, the latter's mainly due to her suicide at the beginning of the film.
The same can be said for the boys present here. We recognize their faces, but other than that, not much else. However, there is one major standout that is still a recognizable name today, Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett). He plays the suave and smooth-talking teen who takes Lux to the prom. Hartnett gives a great performance as Trip, and practically oozes charisma when he is on the screen. Then, when he screws Lux over, I think it hurts that much more as Hartnett really makes this a character to root for.
While Coppola may not have a great acting career, "The Virgin Suicides" proves what she was capable of, and has expanded that into a very impressive filmography. She has then went on to make classics like "Lost in Translation", and it all started with a stellar directorial debut here. It perfectly covers the topic of teen suicide, while also showing the hardships and hell teen girls go through. I couldn't imagine anyone better than Coppola to tackle this haunting tale of love and loss.