Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Virgin Suicides

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.

***Additional DVD Content Written from 8/30/18-9/8/18***

The 2000 Region 1 DVD from Paramount Classics and Zoetrope presented the film in a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio with 5.1 Surround Sound in English and French along with hard for hearing subtitles in English. The special features from the 2000 DVD include the film’s theatrical trailer as well as a photo gallery of photos from the film’s production. One major special feature is a music video for Air’s Playground Love directed by Roman and Sofia Coppola that recreates a few scenes of the film that involves a chewing gum that comes to live to sing the song. The video is a creative moment that include cameos from Roman and Sofia as they’re about to shoot the film’s prom scene that includes the chewing gum singing.

Another special feature from the 2000 DVD is a making-of documentary from Sofia’s mother Eleanor who was famous for shooting footage for the making of Apocalypse Now by her husband Francis Ford Coppola that would later be used in the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. The 20-minute documentary feature Coppola directing the film with her parents watching as Francis is one of the film’s executive producers while her older brother Roman does the film’s second unit work. Jeffrey Eugenides would make an appearance chatting with Josh Hartnett about the character of Trip while James Woods is first seen in the documentary’s opening scenes praising the crew on the production which he says is one of his most enjoyable experiences. It’s a fun documentary short that has a mother filming her daughter making her first feature-length film.

The 2018 Region 1/Region DVD/Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection presents the film in a new 4k digital restoration supervised by cinematographer Edward Lachman and with the approval of its screenwriter/director Sofia Coppola in its original 1:66:1 aspect ratio with a 5.1 Surround Sound (uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio Soundtrack for the Blu-Ray) mix. Among the special features retained from the 2000 DVD release from Paramount are the film’s trailer, the making-of documentary film by Eleanor Coppola, and the music video for Air’s Playground Love. Among the new special features added for the DVD/Blu-Ray release include Coppola’s 1998 short film Lick the Star in a new remastered transfer approved by Coppola.

The 15-minute interview with novelist Jeffrey Eugenides has him talk about the novel as well as the film where he reveals not just how faithful Coppola was with the book but also in providing her own interpretation that was more driven by women since the book was told mainly from the point of view of four teenage boys. Eugenides talks about what inspired him to write the book as well as how he was surprised that the many of his readers were young teenage females and young women as he knew that its popularity would lead to many studios wanting to adapt his book into a film. Yet, he felt that Coppola was the one who really got it as well as he was on set for a few days where Josh Hartnett came to him for ideas on the character of Trip Fontaine. It’s an interview that has Eugenides not only rave about the film but also Coppola as he believed that she has a voice of her own through the films she would make in the years to come.

The 26-minute interview section with screenwriter/director Sofia Coppola, cinematographer Edward Lachman, Kirsten Dunst, and Josh Hartnett entitled Revisiting “The Virgin Suicides” has the four talk about their experience in making the film as well as their take on the story. Coppola revealed that she discovered Eugenides’ book in the early 1990s at a time when she was trying to figure out what to do in art and learned that the book would be made into a film by another filmmaker. Coppola was afraid what that film would be like as she received advice from her father into adapting a few chapters of the book into a script where she eventually adapted the entire novel and would submit to producers of the adaptation that was in development that had fallen apart because of issues with the original director. Coppola also talked a little bit about her first short film Lick the Star which she did as a test to see if she can make a film as it gave her ideas of what she would do with her first feature-length film.

Dunst and Hartnett both talked about their own experience as Dunst (who was 16 during production) and Hartnett (who was to turn 20 during the production) also talked about Coppola’s direction and how their idea of acting changed by doing this film. Dunst in particular as she had done a lot of big budget and Hollywood films prior as she felt she became a different actress after this film. Lachman talks about working with Coppola, who was new to filmmaking, as the two both had similar ideas of what the film should look like where he also talked about the lighting cues that he wanted to create. Coppola also talked about the first-time experience as she admitted that she didn’t think she would find her calling as a filmmaker but credits Eugenides’ book for giving her the idea of becoming one.

The 13-minute video essay piece Strange Magic by Tavi Gevinson has the film writer/blogger talk about the film as well as her own experiences with both the book and film during her days as a teenager. Gevinson says the film would inspire her to start a fanzine and later her own blog in Rookie that would become an online magazine that focused on pop culture, fashion, and feminism. Gevinson would reveal things she wrote about the film as well as why she felt the film had connected with a lot of teenage girls since its release as well as some of the details on the film’s visuals. Gevinson also talks about a lot of the film’s idea of teenage life which she felt had a lot of relevance to her own experiences as it is a fascinating piece from Gevinson who definitely has a lot of interesting to say about the film.

The DVD/Blu-Ray set also includes a booklet that features an essay by novelist Megan Abbot entitled They Hadn’t Heard Us Calling about the film. Abbot talks about some of the film’s themes as well as how the film would relate itself to the other films Coppola would later do in the years to come. Abbot also talked about the differences between the book and film as well as how Coppola would create this air of distance of the neighborhood boys and the Lisbon girls with the latter desperate wanting to connect in their repressive home. It’s a remarkable essay to one of the finest debut films ever made in the 20th Century.

***End of DVD Tidbits***

The Virgin Suicides is a phenomenal film 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 tremendous debut film by Sofia Coppola.

Sofia Coppola Soundtracks: Air-The Virgin Suicides - The Virgin Suicides OST - Lost in Translation OST - Marie Antoinette OST - (The Bling Ring OST) - (Priscilla OST)

© thevoid99 2010

No comments: