The Virgin Suicides

Directed by Sofia Coppola
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito, Scott Glenn.
MPAA Rating: R for strong thematic elements involving teens.

Review by Rachel Deahl <>
May 10, 2000

In her directorial debut, Sofia Coppola does something more astonishing than simply make a fine film; she makes a fine film out of an incontrovertibly literary novel. Jeffrey Eugenides' atmospheric and brilliant tale about five sisters who kill themselves one year in an American suburb during the 1970s is exactly the kind of novel you want to see become a movie, and precisely the kind that usually translates terribly onto film.

Told by a collective narrator (the group of boys who tell this story refer to themselves intermittently as "us" and "we"), Eugenides is able to capture the tragedy of the Lisbon girls through the eyes of everyone and no one at the same time. Combining this unusual narration with his beautiful prose, Eugenides is able to create a haunting picture of obsession, love and that indescribable tragedy called growing up. With an essentially non-existent narrator and such atmospheric writing, it would seem that The Virgin Suicides is exactly the kind of book better left on the page. Enter Sofia Coppola.

In a deft turn as writer-director, Coppola manages to bring this novel to the screen seamlessly. Staying true to the book, Coppola plucks excerpts from the novel and works them into a cohesive and effective whole.

Documenting what became known as "the year of the suicides," the film chronicles the collapse of the Lisbon family. The five Lisbon girls occupy that strange place between myth and reality in the minds of the narrators. Their over-protective parents (played to perfection by James Woods and Kathleen Turner) have kept them hidden from their fellow teens, and the five blondes who make up the Lisbon household become the obsession of the neighborhood boys. The boys spend a lifetime trying to understand the girls' short lives and mysterious deaths.

What's so fascinating about Eugenides' novel is the way in which he draws you into a mystery where the most fascinating question concerns whether it's actually a mystery at all. The narrators gather "evidence" throughout the years, trying to figure out who the girls really were and why they finally came to such a terrible end, all the while questioning their own motives and desires to find the "truth."

Coppola manages to recreate the numbness and devastation Eugenides inspires in the reader. Kristen Dunst turns in an exquisite performance as the wild and sexy Lux, while James Woods and Kathleen Turner shine as the devastated parents. Woods is especially memorable playing against type as Mr. Lisbon, the sweet, emasculated father and husband trying to wander through the mine field of his life.

To her credit, Coppola has taken Eugenides' novel and skillfully replicated the feeling and the mood he created. Ironically enough, what keeps The Virgin Suicides from being great is that it stands as a very good translation when it needs to be an innovative departure.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The Virgin Suicides (1999)

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The Virgin Suicides (1999) -- VHS
The Virgin Suicides (1999) -- DVD
The Virgin Suicides, a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides -- Paperback
The Virgin Suicides: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc
The Virgin Suicides: Score -- Compact Disc Home
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Review © 2000 Rachel Deahl
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