"Cecilia was the first to go..."
Virgin Suicides
Review by Ross Anthony

The provocative title "Virgin Suicides" connotes a rough edgy film shaded with dark humor and graphic violence - perhaps even sporting a grainy 16mm touch and feel to the projection on screen. But in reality, "Virgin Suicides" plays out more like the "growing up" stories of "Liberty Heights" or "October Sky" as it utilizes the suicides of five beautiful, blonde, teen sisters as the story's vehicle.

Rewinding to the 1970's, this suburban high school tale aspires to recreate the mystery, magic and agony of teendom.

Doctor to patient, "What are you doing here? You're not even old enough to know how bad life can get."

Suicidal teen, "Obviously doctor, you've never been a 13 year old girl."

Narrator Giovani Ribisi recounts the events that lead up to the final suicides, while simultaneously introducing us to the Lisbon sisters, his group of neighborhood boys, and the intersection thereof. Though the filmmakers' constantly seem to be telling this tale as some sort of cathartic therapy toward understanding the suicides and therefore, I don't know, comprehending life itself a little better; it unfortunately seems more of an insincere excuse to relate a rather interesting story. In fact, it isn't necessary that Ribisi needs to or even cares to know the WHY's. The fact is, the story itself is compelling enough. In this way, it's not unlike a bystander ogling a car-wreck for the inexplicable visceral attraction, then trying to excuse his interest as purely investigatory.

But that's just what I saw, here's what the director had to say, "It's about mortality and obsession and love. It isn't about romanticizing suicide. I never saw the Lisbon sisters or their Virgin Suicidesacts as real and I don't think they were intended to be. The Lisbons are the figments of memory, these lovely mythical creatures of the imagination who are more beautiful than reality can ever be, so of course they cannot last."

Still, this is my review. The reasons for the suicides seem rather strongly implied if not plainly obvious. Personally, I'd rather have had them left mysterious. But as long as they weren't, any pursuit to their understanding by Ribisi seems insulting. A focus from the domineeringly oppressive parents' perspective, may have been a curious direction, though that would have been another project all together. James Woods is awesome, albeit a minor character, as the submissively bliss math teacher father; while Kathleen Turner (mom) rules the house with an iron-gate fist.

In the end, this is not really the edgy graphic picture you'd expect. It's a coming of age tale about boys and girls that never quite comes of age itself, but still makes an interesting story. Ribisi's narration generalizes the difference between the sexes, "We know that they knew everything about us, but we couldn't fathom them at all."

Debuting director Soffie Coppla (daughter of Francis Ford) shows great talent in portraing the moments. A family at home watching nature TV with the handsome young male guest, a bare foot on the coffee table, the uneasy parents. But this particular film, though compelling (even humorous) at times, doesn't quite fill out in the end.

  • Virgin Suicides. Copyright © 2000. Rated R. 97 minutes.
  • Starring James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, Hanna Hall, Chelse Swain, A.J. Cook, Leslie Hayman, Michael Pare, Jonathon Tucker, Anthony DeSimone, and Noah Shebib.
  • Written and Directed by Sophia Coppla.
  • Based upon the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides.
  • Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, Julie Costanzo, Dan Halsted at Paramount Classics/American Zoetrope/Muse/Eternity.


Copyright © 2000. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit: RossAnthony.com

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 07:43:16 PDT