Thursday, June 16, 2011
Sofia Coppola, 1999
Starring: James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Joh Hartnett, A.J. Cook, Hanna Hall
Though I enjoy Sofia Coppola's work, all of her films tend to be about the boredom and malaise of life, as well as the trouble of discovering one's identity or purpose. After a botched attempt at an acting career (Godfather 3... ouch), she kicked off a much more successful stretch as a a director with this film, which is an adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides' novel of the same name.
This drama/black comedy is about the five blonde Lisbon sisters who are secretly loved from a distance by four of the neighborhood boys, until their surprise suicides one summer. Narrated by one of the boys, the film starts with the botched suicide attempt of the youngest, Cecilia, who cuts her wrists. Her shrink convinces the parents to let the girls have some more social interaction, namely a party with some of the neighborhood boys. Cecilia responds by jumping out of her bedroom window onto the spiked garden fence, successfully killing herself. Their parents, consumed with grief, instate an increasingly controlling lock down. When the girls go to prom and the beautiful Lux stays out all night, they are pulled from school and essentially cloistered within the house. The boys attempt to intervene, but it is too little too late.
Though love, longing, and teenage suicide are some of the main themes of Virgin Suicides, this film manages to be melancholic but not depressing. The well-executed '70s summer setting makes it feel dreamy and nostalgic, rather than grim and realistic. Cecilia, Lux, Bonnie, Mary and Therese exist more as objects of mystery and desire than as real characters, which for better or worse dulls the impact of their inevitable loss at the end of the film.
Aside from being very visually appealing, the film says some interesting things about the mystery of female adolescence and sexuality, as well as the role of pubescent girls in society. The Lisbon sisters attempt to figure out identity and sexuality, but utterly fail. Experience doesn't come from a vacuum. They live vicariously through records, high school, TV, and catalogs, all of which gradually get shut out over the course of the film. Though Cecilia is the first to dare for something more, the others take baby steps in this direction, namely Lux. She is the only sister to directly experience sex, which becomes her ticket to freedom. Her attempts to escape via promiscuity is the only truly heartbreaking part of the film.
Overall this is a debut that signifies a promising future. It is a delicate, elegant film that is a lot more ambitious than it lives up to, but still a work worth seeing if you haven't gotten around to it yet. There's a very basic region 1 DVD from Paramount.