Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Virgin Suicides: Surburban Life Is Just Awful

the virgin suicides,movie poster,kirsten dunst

I watched this one awhile ago, but have been too busy, what with my day job and real life, etc., to actually write about it. So now, in the ultimate snackrifice, I will write about this film today, rather than watching all of the scintillating new television shows available to me tonight. Wait, there's nothing good on Tuesdays, and the Lady is busy, so... here you go. I mean, um. I really want to?

Back in the early 90s (1993 to be obsessive), a young, hip upstart of a novelist debuted to the world with The Virgin Suicides. In 1999, the young, hip offspring of a well-respected and prolific Hollywood film director figured it would be a pretty nifty film to start off with. That crazy director was Sofia Coppola. Yes, the very same cousin of Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman! It is truly amazing. Well, okay, the movie is decently well-directed, and word on the street is that she adapted the film into a passable screenplay. The film stars James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, and a bunch of other people whose names I can't remember. It's okay, thought. The characters are important in what they represent, and the actions that they take. Okay, fine, since you're all such sticklers, the film also stars A.J. Cook, Hanna R. Hall, Leslie Hayman, Chelse Swain, Danny DeVito in a memorable and extremely tiny role, a really young Hayden Christensen, Giovanni Ribisi as the narrator, Anthony DeSimone, Lee Kagan, Robert Schwartzman, Noah Shebib, and Jonathan Tucker. Whew. See? That's why I didn't want to get into it.

the lisbon girls,the virgin suicides

Set in early-1970s Grosse Pointe Michigan, the film is of particular resonance to me, because I've lived in Michigan for the last ten years or so. The 70s was an important time for the country in general, and the Detroit suburbs was a pretty interesting place at the time. The plot focuses on the Lisbon family, Ronald and Sara, and their five mysterious and deeply disturbed daughters. Kirsten Dunst is sort of the main daughter, Lux, and her sisters are Mary, Cecilia, Therese, and Bonnie. The story opens with the attempted suicide of Cecilia, the youngest girl. This only proves to increase the allure, mysterious draw, and legend of the girls to the various boys of the school and the neighborhood. It's through their eyes and thoughts (and the narration of one of them, grown up), that we experience the events. The Lisbon parents are slightly awkward and extremely overbearing, which causes some extreme lashing out by the girls.

Inexplicably, all of the girls end up committing suicide (hence the title). Cecilia is the first, succeeding after her failed first attempt, and by the end of the film, the other girls follow after, in decidedly suburban ways. Lux is the second-to-youngest, but by far the most rebellious, sexual, ambitious, and probably the craziest. As shown below, the neighborhood boys become obsessed with the girls, due to their unnatural beauty, the mystery inherent in their parents authoritarian rules and restrictions, and their eventual deaths. The story also features short scenes like interviews, where at least one of the boys, grown up, is still searching for answers, and still discussing them.

the boys,the virgin suicides

I'd like to read the book, and I've gotten into the habit of watching films first when I can, and then reading the book. I may have mentioned this before, but I figure, why be disappointed in the movie because it's not as good as the book? It's literally always the case. I might as well enjoy the film with no expectations, and then enjoy the book even more when it's so much better than the film. It's the most win-win situation ever, and I'll fight for that opinion! Yeah, that's what I thought, tough guy. Don't hit me!

James Woods and Kathleen Turner give stellar performances as the continually flustered and way-out-of-their leagues parents of five precocious and intense young daughters. Kirsten Dunst is pretty impressive as well, in an odd sort of way, even though I'm not generally a big fan of hers. Josh Hartnett is pretty hilarious in an extremely terrible wig, and a tiny little young Hayden Christensen cracks me up. Giovanni Ribisi is probably the second-best male in the film, next to the always engaging James Woods. Most of the girls, ironically, were relatively forgettable, in my opinion as a viewer.

I was mostly trying to figure out what was really so terrible about their lives, and why they felt their only real out was suicide. They were basically kept prisoner to a certain extent for a good deal of the film, but the parents were understandably distressed by their daughter's suicide, and probably didn't have good coping mechanisms back in the 1970s. Lux's behavior is far more extreme than I would assume rational, which I guess is the prerogative of a 14 year old girl. The boys' shared obsession with them is somewhat understandable, but only up until their collective deaths. Five sisters killing themselves almost simultaneously is worth a little closer look, but up until then? Yeah, sure, they were pretty, but come on. Pretty people are all over the place! I guess young teenage boys are more susceptible to that sort of thing. Also, they did see Lux having random sex on her roof with random people, which I guess would be pretty memorable.

In general, I found the film to be particularly disturbing, adequately directed, written well (though that's probably due to the source material more than anything else), and acted with a special sort of suburban subtlety that only increases the disturbing aspects of the story. I give it four Danny DeVito cameos out of five, or four utterly suburban teenage girl suicides out of five (they included hanging, asphyxiation by car exhaust in a garage, head in the oven, and pills). Fun for the whole family?

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