The Virgin Suicides Review
When The Virgin Suicides was originally released it failed to set the box office alight as many people thought the subject matter would be depressing. This is not really the case as the film concentrates more on the lives of the main characters (as opposed to their deaths), and the effect that they had on the people surrounding them.
The story centres on the lives of the 5 Lisbon sisters, growing up in the mid 70’s in suburban Michigan; it begins with the attempted suicide of the youngest of the sisters (Cecilia), who has slit her wrists whilst in the bath. Following her suicide attempt, Cecilia is taken to the family doctor who advises her parents to allow the sisters to mix with the other children in the neighbourhood. Taking the doctors advice the Lisbon’s throw an afternoon party and invite the local contingent of neighbourhood boys along. During the course of the party we are subjected to the successful suicide of Cecilia and the start of the boy’s fascination with the sisters. Their fascination becomes even stronger when one of them finds Cecilia’s diary, and they get an intimate insight into the lives of the enigmatic girls. Unfortunately, despite their fascination, the boys are never allowed to really get to know the sisters, due mainly to their over protective parents (played by Kathleen Turner and James Woods).
The only boy who gets to know more about the sisters is Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett), the local lothario who is the object of desire for every girl in town. Trip unintentionally meets Lux (Kirsten Dunst), falls deeply in lust with her and attempts to get to know her better. Lux is initially unimpressed by Trips advances, but eventually capitulates when Trip informs her of his intentions to take her to the Homecoming dance. Ultimately it is Trips involvement with Lux that leads to the eventual downfall of the Lisbon family.
The story of what happened is told mainly as a series of flashbacks from the present day, with narration from an unidentified male (Giovanni Ribisi), who you assume to be one of the boys obsessed with the sisters. Various people’s recollections are also included, as are gossipy stories from the neighbourhood women. This style of storytelling does not always suit a visual medium, but the various styles are effortlessly included in the film.
The Virgin Suicides was the directorial debut of Sofia Coppola, and she has crafted a beautiful, thought provoking and above all accomplished movie. The story unfolds slowly and this is reflected well with the style of direction used. There are no jumpy camera moves and fast paced editing and it is refreshing to watch a film that believes the audience has a longer attention span than 30 seconds! This movie was something of a labour of love as Sofia also adapted the screen play from the book by Jeffrey Eugenides, and emotion almost pours from every frame. Colour filters were used to help enhance the mood of each scene, which fits in nicely with the use of sound effects and a wonderfully dreamy musical score by French duo Air. Personally, I think that The Virgin Suicides is potentially one of the most outstanding directorial debuts for many years.
Understandably, as this is a film about being a teenager, the cast is predominantly young. This does not prevent some outstanding performances, which is made even more impressive as there is no real character development (with the possible exceptions being Lux and Trip Fontaine). Kathleen Turner and James Woods put in wonderfully understated performances as the sisters religious and overbearing mother, and her downtrodden husband, while Kirsten Dunst seems to delight in her role as the rebellious and sexually provocative Lux. The standout performance for me was Hannah R Hall (Cecilia), although she’s only in the movie for around 15 minutes she conveys a sense of hope and hopelessness that’s fantastic to watch
Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, the picture quality is generally OK. Unfortunately there are a number of scenes where there is some obvious artifacting but overall this is not too distracting. As mentioned earlier, colour filters were used to enhance the mood of the film, and some scenes tend to have a greenish and dull look to them, while others are drenched in sunshine, but this is the intended effect and it comes across well. However, on the whole I would have expected a much better transfer for such a recent film.
A Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is included on the disk, due to the nature of the film this is not used to its full extent, but when used is very effective. Dialogue is very clear and sound effects are easy to identify, the sound track is possibly the best thing about the DD 5.1 mix making excellent use of all the speakers.
Menus / Chapter Stops
The menus are nicely designed, and are in keeping with the simplistic mood of the movie. The Special Features menu has music from the soundtrack overlaid on it.
The film is broken down into16 chapter stops, which is more than adequate for a film that is only 96 minutes long.
The original theatrical trailer is included on the disk, the cover for the DVD mentions that there are 2 trailers included in this disk, but I could only find 1. A photo gallery is also included which includes behind the scenes photos as well as a couple of stills from the film. The photo gallery is set to some of the music score.
The music video to Airs “Playground Love” is included; the instrumental adaptation of this song “Highschool Lover” is the theme to the film and is used throughout. The video is quite surreal and features a piece of chewing gum that lip-synchs to the lyrics, with nice tie ins to the film to get the gum from one scene to another. The video has to be seen to be believed, and is much more original than the usual film tie in video.
Finally there is the Making of The Virgin Suicides featurette, shot by Eleanor Coppola (who co-directed the Hearts of Darkness documentary). This is more interesting than your normal featurette and is around 25 minutes long. It includes interviews with some of the principal members of the cast as well as Jeffrey Eugenides and Sofia Coppola. It works really well with the film, and gives you an insight into how everything was done.
Although not the best DVD in terms of extras, they do complement the film nicely. Both the featurette and video are extras that will be watched more than once.
Sofia Coppola has managed to do what many people thought was impossible, bring a book about the lives and deaths of 5 sisters to the screen. She has written and directed a hauntingly beautiful movie that is highly evocative of the era in which it is set. The Virgin Suicides is not a film about doom and gloom, but rather a well observed tale full of well disguised humour and tragedy that can also be viewed as a social commentary. At just over 90 minutes this is a film that everyone should watch.