With "The Bling Ring" opening today (in limited release), it’s kind of crazy to believe that Sofia Coppola's feature directorial debut, "The Virgin Suicides," is nearly 15 years old. Released in 1999, the flick is somehow drenched in both hyper-realized sunshine and the gloom of being a teenage girl.
Sure, it was 2003’s "Lost in Translation" that catapulted the director’s career to the next level, but there’s something about "The Virgin Suicides" (based off of Jeffrey Eugenides' 1993 novel of the same name) that defines Coppola’s oeuvre.
The film, first off, is beautiful to look at, as her projects tend to be. It’s got a hazy vibe to it that perfectly complements the madness of what drives the plot, about five blond sisters who feel so trapped by their overprotective parents and the despair of suburban life that they all kill themselves. The film never glamorizes their actions, but instead it puts it (and our reactions to it) under a microscope, handling such traumatic events with great delicacy.
Eugenides deserves credit for handling the subject in a similar fashion in his novel, but Coppola (who also penned the script) picks up all the nuances and subtleties of how difficult it is to be a teen girl and runs with them. The film celebrates the joy of being young but also reminds you that there’s a moody side to it that can lead to terrible consequences when not handled properly. And while the film is set in the '70s (perfectly styled with fashion and music, in true Coppola fashion), that theme remains just as relevant today.
The film boasts a dynamic performance from Kirsten Dunst (who would later appear in Coppola’s "Marie Antoinette"), playing the most rebellious of the Lisbon girls, Luxe. She’s flawlessly beautiful and perfectly flawed, yet totally relatable. She just wants to be a teenage girl, but no one will let her.
Without giving too much away for those who haven’t seen it, it’s her short-lived romance with Josh Hartnett’s dreamy Trip Fontaine that is really the beginning of the end for the remaining four sisters, who at the time of the break-up are still reeling from the shock of the family’s first suicide victim, Cecilia (Hanna Hall).
The cast is rounded out by a handful of then unknowns, including a young Hayden Christensen, as well as Coppola’s cousin and Rooney lead singer Robert Schwartzman, who is particularly funny as the son of a mobster. They both play would-be suitors for the girls. They are joined by movie vets Kathleen Turner and James Woods as the Lisbon parents, who have no clue how to handle their teenage daughters from beginning to end.
By the time the credits roll, the girls are gone but remain the object of affection for the group of teenage boys who spend the film idolizing the Lisbon girls and remain fixated on them even in their deaths. The viewer kind of feels the same way.