The Virgin Suicides

on April 21, 2000 by Lael Loewenstein
   The feature directing debut of the genealogically blessed Sofia Coppola, "The Virgin Suicides" is a competent but unexceptional film that tells the story of one family's catastrophic attempts to rein in adolescence during the 1970s. As told from the perspective of the boys next door (and wistfully narrated with a hint of "Wonder Years" nostalgia by Giovanni Ribisi), the Lisbon sisters are blonde and beautiful but inexplicably troubled. Led by the eldest, Lux (Kirsten Dunst), the siblings suffocate under their overprotective parents (James Woods and Kathleen Turner), a conservative, ordinary couple who react with understandable shock to the suicide attempt of their youngest daughter Cecilia (Hanna Hall). When Lux's foray with a smitten schoolboy (Josh Hartnett) keeps her out all night, Mom places all the girls under virtual house arrest and even burns Lux's record collection. That punishment precipitates a desperate attempt by the girls to communicate with the boys next door and sets off a surprising chain of events.
   There are nice moments throughout, and Coppola has done a deft job evoking the spirit of the film's period and suburban setting. But while performances and technical elements are unimpeachable, the film, finally, disappoints: Like the Lisbon girls themselves, it is lovely to look at but doesn't stand up well to close inspection; it feels empty and soulless. The film opens touting a mystery and never solves it, which is not in itself a crime, but it neither deepens nor enriches the question at the crux of that mystery. You walk away knowing about as much as when you sat down, feeling detached from the characters and the story and wondering where the last 90-odd minutes went.    Starring Kirsten Dunst, James Woods and Kathleen Turner. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, Julie Costanzo, Chris Hanley, Dan Halsted. A Paramount Classics release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 95 min.
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