• Jeff Beck

The Virgin Suicides: Sofia Coppola's Hypnotic Debut Feature (Criterion 4K/Blu-ray)


The Film:


Writer/Director Sofia Coppola has had a fascinating career thus far that has included her winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for her masterpiece "Lost in Translation," which was only her second feature film. She would follow this up with the divisive, yet lavishly enjoyable "Marie Antoinette," but has sadly struggled ever since to bring another decent film to the screen with disappointing efforts like "Somewhere," "The Bling Ring," "The Beguiled," and "On the Rocks." But what of the film that started her journey behind the camera? "The Virgin Suicides," based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, tends to get overshadowed quite a bit by her second feature, but with Criterion giving it a grand 4K upgrade this week, it's the perfect time to go back and see how she began her roller coaster of a career as a director.


Taking place in 1974, "The Virgin Suicides" revolves around five teenage sisters: Lux (Kirsten Dunst), Cecilia (Hanna R. Hall), Therese (Leslie Hayman), Mary (A.J. Cook), and Bonnie (Chelse Swain), who live with their overbearing parents (James Woods and Kathleen Turner). When Cecilia attempts to kill herself, her doctor recommends allowing her to have more interaction with kids her age, so her mother reluctantly agrees to a chaperoned party at their house. However, the party ends up being a disaster, with Cecilia killing herself by jumping out of a second story window.


Later on, Lux begins a relationship with a young man, Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett), who manages to convince her parents to let him and his friends take her and her sisters on a group date to the school dance. However, this too doesn't go well, resulting in Trip abandoning her there, which makes her parents become even more strict. This causes the neighborhood boys to become even more fascinated with them, but is there any chance of escape for these young ladies who have been almost entirely cut off from the world?


Sofia Coppola's debut feature is quite an odd little film, and that's not just because of the somewhat strange subject matter. Rather, it's odd in that there's not a whole lot of plot to speak of here, and yet, the film has a fascinating hypnotic quality about it that keeps you engrossed in the tale of these young ladies, whose social lives are rather smothered thanks to their overprotective parents. It draws you into their plight and pulls you along for their small victories (a party, a dance, etc.) and major defeats (practically everything else), and while you obviously know exactly where it's headed the entire time, it remains a compelling journey as it comes to its inevitable conclusion.


As far as everything else goes, the film's '70s production design and costumes are impeccable, with a cast that does a fantastic job of bringing this eerie story to life. Kirsten Dunst, who would go on to collaborate with Coppola a few more times after, is particularly effective, as are Kathleen Turner and James Woods, who play their parts with a sad cluelessness as to the damage their harsh upbringing is doing. Even Josh Hartnett, who's not particularly known for giving great performances, does a fine job here as the sleazy jock.


In the end, "The Virgin Suicides" is not going to be one of the most memorable movies you've seen, but it remains an intriguing experience that showed great promise in its director & screenwriter, paving the way for her greatest accomplishment as a filmmaker, "Lost in Translation." Hopefully Coppola will return to making more compelling films like these in the near future, but until then, at least we have these early works of hers that showed her remarkable talent behind the camera.


Video/Audio:


"The Virgin Suicides" comes to 4K and Blu-ray in a gorgeous digital restoration that was approved by director Sophia Coppola and supervised by cinematographer Ed Lachman. This was a "low budget" production shot on film, but as usual Criterion has done a wonderful job cleaning it up and making it look practically new again. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally stunning, giving you the dialogue and Air's score/soundtrack in excellent quality. Overall, it's no surprise that there's not a complaint to be had in either area.


Special Features:


Revisiting The Virgin Suicides (26 Minutes): An interesting retrospective featuring writer/director Sophia Coppola, stars Kirsten Dunst and Josh Hartnett, and cinematographer Ed Lachman.


Jeffrey Eugenides (16 Minutes): An interview with the author of the novel in which he discusses the book and the film.


Strange Magic (13 Minutes): A featurette that has writer and Rookie editor in chief Tavi Gevinson analyzing the film.


Making of The Virgin Suicides (23 Minutes): A fascinating behind the scenes look at the making of the film, featuring multiple interviews with the cast and crew.


Lick the Star (14 Minutes): A short film by Sofia Coppola from 1998.


"Playground Love" Music Video (4 Minutes)


Conclusion:


Sofia Coppola's 1999 debut feature, "The Virgin Suicides," may not have much of a plot to speak of, but thanks to a talented cast and intriguing subject matter, it remains a hypnotic and compelling experience that keeps you engaged for its brief 90-minute runtime, while showing much promise in the young filmmaker at the helm.


Score: 3.5/5


Now available on Criterion 4K/Blu-ray.


Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.


Join our mailing list