"The Virgin Suicides"
A movie review on
"The Women's Show" on WMNF FM Tampa 88.5
May 20,2000

I had hoped to catch "The Virgin Suicides" last week when it was at the Tampa Theater, but I couldn't make it. Luckily, it has now taken up residence at the Hollywood 20 and I was able to catch it last night.

This is a debut feature film by writer/director Sofia Coppola, the 30 year old daughter of Francis Ford Coppola. Previously most of her work has been as an actor, but this leap into writing and directing is quite impressive.

The plot of this study of a really, really dysfunctional family is quite fascinating. Its insights are not made all that obvious and it makes you keep on thinking about the characters and their motivations long after you leave the theater. With a cast that has plenty of acting power, e.g., Kathleen Turner as Mrs. Lisbon, James Woods as Mr. Lisbon, and Kirstin Dunst as Lux, the eldest of their five daughters, she's able to make this bizarre family seem believable.

The story is told in flash back by a narrator (Giovanni Ribisi, who is never seen on the screen) recalling events from his high school days when he and several of his friends became fascinated with the Lisbon girls, five uniformly pretty blondes ranging in age from 17 to 13--so fascinated that they watch them through a telescope, read one Lisbon girl's diary, and fantasize a lot about being with these unattainable princesses. And they are like princesses in the way that they are kept under lock and key by their parents who allow no dating, no interaction with boys except at their home watching television with the family.

The first one to try to commit suicide is the youngest daughter; she fails in her first attempt, but, oddly, the Lisbons' response to that cry for help is to throw a party for her. The boy who comes as her supposed "date" is apparently retarded. She asks her mother to be excused from the party, goes upstairs, jumps out of the window and is impaled on a spike on a wrought iron fence.

The family seems unable to express their feelings about this event and so do nothing, they go on apparently as usual. When the eldest, Lux, catches the eye of the school hunk, named Trip and played by Josh Hartnett, he contrives to get all the Lisbon daughters dates for the homecoming dance since, after all, Mr. Lisbon is a chaperone. When Lux and Trip fail to return home after the dance(and Trip literally loves her and leaves her lying on the football field) things turn really bad. The girls become, literally, prisoners in their own home. They outwardly don't seem to mind all that much, except Lux who does sneak out on a regular basis. But they find a suitably bizarre way of escaping their torment. But the boys who were so fascinated by them, are still trying to figure them out and haunted by their memory many years later.

I wanat to remark about Coppola's way with a camera. She uses lots of unusual effects, but not just to show off her skill. She usues them with great effect to forward the plot or character development. One example, when the girls are greeting their dates for the dance all done up in homemade dresses and being perfect ladies, we are allowed to see through Lux's dress and see that she has written Trip's name on her panties!

Do take a look at this film. It's many cuts above other "high school films" you'll find out there. And it provides the opportunity to see a new Coppola behind the camera, though she seems to resemble David Lynch more than Francis Ford Coppola.

For "The Women's Show" this is Linda Lopez McAlister on Women and Film.

copyright 2000 by Linda Lopez McAlister. All rights reserved. Please request permission to reproduce this review: mcalister@chuma1.cas.usf.edu