Originally Written and Posted on Epinions.com on 9/20/03 with Additional Edits and New Content.
When the name Coppola is mentioned in a sentence, the immediate reaction is Francis Ford Coppola, the man behind great films like The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, Peggy Sue Got Married, and The Godfather Trilogy featuring the highly celebrated first two films of the series. While Francis Ford Coppola has remained a respected director, a new generation of Coppolas started to emerge. With his nephew Nicholas Cage, already an Oscar-winning actor with a celebrated career, Coppola's children are now following their father's footsteps as directors. There's Roman Coppola, who recently earned good reviews for his debut feature CQ while helming such award-winning music videos for bands like the Strokes and Fatboy Slim's Praise You with then brother-in-law and Being John Malkovich director Spike Jonze. The other Coppola that is making a name is Roman's younger sister Sofia, who wowed audience with her 1999 full-feature directorial debut The Virgin Suicides.
The Virgin Suicides is a movie based on the Jeffrey Eugenides novel that was adapted by Coppola into a screenplay. The film takes place in an idyllic suburbia in the mid-1970s as neighborhood boys discover their own sexuality while watching the self-destruction of a group of young sisters as they're being trapped into their strict family home. While Sofia Coppola does capture a sense of tranquility and authenticity of the times like her father Francis did in The Godfather, Sofia brings a deeper tone to the film where at first, everything seems innocent but there's something amiss. With an ensemble cast that includes veterans like James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Scott Glenn, Danny Devito, and Michael Pare along with up-and-coming stars like Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, Jonathan Tucker, Robert Schwartzman (the singer for the California pop-rock band Rooney), Hayden Christensen, and Chelse Swain (sister of Dominique). The Virgin Suicides is a breathtaking debut from Sofia Coppola.
The stroy begins, it starts off with a narrator (Giovanni Ribisi) talking about how his old neighborhood back in the mid-1970s was never the same without the Lisbon girls. The narrator talks about how he and a few of his friends that included his friends Tim Weiner (Jonathan Tucker) and Chase Buell (Anthony Desimone) are transfixed by the beauty and mystique of the five Lisbon girls. There was the youngest, 13-year old Cecilia (Hanna R. Hall), 14-year old Lux (Kirsten Dunst), 15-year old Bonnie (Chelse Swain), 16-year old Mary (A.J. Cook) and the eldest, 17-year old Therese (Leslie Hayman) that all lived in a quiet, idyllic home with their strict mother (Kathleen Turner) and math teacher father (James Woods). To everyone, life seems fine for the Lisbons but Cecilia was rushed into the hospital after a horrifying suicide attempt.
After some counseling from Dr. Horniker (Danny Devito), the Lisbons reluctantly try to give the Lisbon girls a social life as they try to question about why she tried to commit suicide at 13. The neighbors think she was influenced by a young Italian immigrant who had a crush on an older woman, while the neighborhood boys talk to a young mob son named Paul Baldino (Robert Schwartzman) who saw Cecilia's suicide attempt through the tunnels of his house.
The Lisbons decides to throw a party for the girls with a lot of reluctance from Mrs. Lisbon, as Cecilia is feeling unhappy about the party while all the neighborhood boys attend and talk with the Lisbon girls. Things go fine until a mentally challenged kid named Joe (Paul Sybersma) comes to the party to bring laughs but Cecilia walks away from the party and something horrible happens. Cecilia's death brought an awareness of suicide around the town and Mrs. Lisbon seeks the advice of priest, Father Moody (Scott Glenn) as the Lisbons try to move on life without Cecilia. The Lisbon girls would go to school as nothing really happened while their father moves on teaching math to students. There the second part of the film begins with a young, good-looking student named Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett) who seems to have everything his way as he loved by all the girls in school and seems to get away with everything including smoking marijuana. One day while sneaking into the wrong classroom, he falls for Lux who at first isn't really interested in him.
He seeks the advice of his father as he finally gets a chance to impress Lux by calling her a Stone Fox and is invited to family dinner where there after, Lux kisses him and he is in heaven. With the prom approaching, Trip asks Mr. Lisbon if he and a few of his friends could take his daughters to the school dance and Mr. Lisbon says yes since he thinks Trip is a nice boy. With the girls already happy and buying prom dresses, Trip gets a few of his buddies (one of them is Hayden Christensen) as they accompany the girls to the prom but Lux is way into Trip's stoner activities of booze and dope. Upon their arrival for the prom, Lux and Trip won the King and Queen of the school dance but things go wrong after an intimate encounter where Trip ditches Lux at the school football field leaving her late past curfew and costing her sister's chance of freedom. Trip meanwhile, never recovered from what he did to Lux as the older Trip is filled with many regrets
Following Lux's failure to make curfew, the girls are banned from school with Lux forced to burn her own record collection. In reaction to her isolation, Lux makes out with various strangers on her roof as seen by the boys as it was only short-lived. With the girls not back at school, Mr. Lisbon is fired as the neighborhood boys try to make contact through playing records through the phone. What happens later would become an event that the boys would be haunted by for the rest of their lives.
What makes The Virgin Suicides a very complex, breathtaking film is how Sofia Coppola takes the audience back in time to the childlike innocence of the 1970s away from Vietnam and Nixon. With cinematographer Edward Lachman, the authentic look of 70s suburbia is filled with majestic colors while on some scenes, there's colors of orange, blue, and dreary earth colors to encompass the mood of its characters and scenes.
Coppola's script adaptation is also strong with its many innocent and dark moments without being melodramatic or making things predictable. The film's ending, as ambiguous as it was delve into the loss of innocence through the teenage boys as they deal with what had happen. The film in many ways delve into the themes that Coppola has explored in her other films which is the theme of alienation and disconnection. Particularly the latter as the Lisbon girls yearn to connect with the boys as they become more detached from reality. It's not to say that it's the fault of the Libson parents entirely. They just don't understand the way things are during the 1970s. Mr. Libson is an aloof sort of man with Mrs. Lisbon being the disciplinarian. Coppola's portrayal of the characters is quite unique, even as it's told through the perspective of one of the neighborhood boys. When it comes to the story of Trip, it's told through an older, burned-out Trip (Michael Pare) as Coppola takes Eugenides' novel into a dreamy yet entrancing story of loss and regret.
Helping Coppola and Lachman capturing that vision is production designer Jasna Stefanovic and costume designer Nancy Steiner, who bring in a nice detail to the look of the 70s while using parts of Los Angeles and Toronto to capture the nice location setting of the film. With longtime Coppola associate Richard Beggs bringing in fine sound design work for the film's haunting quality, the film is nicely paced and stylized by editors James Lyon and Melissa Kent. Another great factor to the film is its use of music ranging from such 70s classic from acts like 10CC, Heart, Todd Rundgren, Styx, the Hollies, and the Bee Gees, to the haunting, electronic film score from the French electronic duo Air.
In the performance front, the best performance easily goes to Kirsten Dunst who stands out above all as the precocious, sexy Lux who is filled with mystique about her character as she plays the sex kitten. Dunst as Lux, remains her best film role to date as she has since had become a prominent star with big roles in Bring It On and the Spider-Man while taking on great roles in smaller films like Peter Bogdanovich's The Cat's Meow and as Marie Antoinette in Sofia Coppola's 2006 bio-pic.. Josh Hartnett even stands out as the hunky stoner Trip Fontaine as he brings a sheer cool to his character that makes him a heartthrob for all women while his ability as a serious actor, is still in question. The roles of the Lisbon sisters including Hannah R. Hall as the doomed Cecilia stands out in a few film moments while the neighborhood boys that included Jonathan Tucker is filled with excellent performances along with Coppola's cousin Robert Schwartzman as Paul Baldino.
The performances of veterans like James Woods and Kathleen Turner are flawless and masterful as the strict but caring Lisbon parents. Especially Woods, who plays a different sort of character as a father and teacher who tries to show kids something but they easily become uninterested and he's still talking. The small roles of Danny Devito, Michael Pare, and Scott Glenn are very memorable, especially Glenn who plays against type from his usual, villain type of roles to play a man of guidance. Giovanni Ribisi as the narrator is another standout since he help makes the film come all together with his inspiring narration.
***Updated DVD Tidbits from 7/13/05***
The Regional 1 DVD from Paramount Classics and Zoetrope that is presented in its 16:9 widescreen format includes 5.1 English Surround sound and French language dubbing. The special features in the 2000 DVD edition include the theatrical trailer, a candid photo gallery shot in Polaroid. Plus a music video for Air's Playground Love that features Gordon Parks' vocals sung through a CGI-gum machine as the video is directed by Sofia and older brother Roman Coppola. The 20-minute making-of feature shows Sofia, her cast, and crew working with her parents and brother commenting on her while James Woods gives an opening speech on how comfortable he is in the making of the film.
***End of DVD Tidbits***
The Virgin Suicides is an excellent and majestic debut from Sofia Coppola, who redeems herself for the notoriety she had achieved for her much-criticized performance in The Godfather Part III. Coppola's striking visuals along with eerie storytelling brings strength to the film along with the performances of Dunst, Hartnett, Turner, and Woods. Fans of Coppola will doubt see this as one of her finest as it is a fascinating feature-film debut by a new director. Even as it's a worthy introduction to her work as this film would set the pace of what would come from the already prestigious director. In the end, The Virgin Suicides is a remarkable debut film by Sofia Coppola.
Sofia Coppola Reviews: Lick the Star - Lost in Translation - Marie Antoinette - Somewhere - The Bling Ring - A Very Murray Christmas
Sofia Coppola Soundtracks: Air-The Virgin Suicides - The Virgin Suicides OST - Lost in Translation OST - Marie Antoinette OST - (The Bling Ring OST)
Sofia Coppola Essays: Sofia Coppola: The Videos and Ads 1993-2008 - LIT 5th Anniversary Essay - The Auteurs #1: Sofia Coppola
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