Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 1/5/01
2000 (2000) - Paramount
review by Dan Kelly of
The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
96 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, RSDL
dual-layered (layer switch at 1:06:40 in chapter 12), Amaray keep
case packaging, The Making of The Virgin
Suicides featurette, 2 theatrical trailers, Playground
Love music video by Air, photo gallery, animated
film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (16 chapters),
languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English,
Virgin Suicides is Sofia Coppola's beautiful and faithful
adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides' highly praised novel of the same
name. The fact that Coppola was able to translate to the screen a
novel that is not written in a straight narrative style speaks
volumes of her directing talent. Both are lyrical works that favor a
dream-like mood over heavy, unnecessary dialogue. I like the book a
great deal, and I love Sofia Coppola's adaptation of it. I think
it's one of the more intriguing films of the year, and Coppola's
direction stands out in my mind as one of the finest feature debuts
in recent years.
At the heart of the story are the teen-aged Lisbon sisters, in
1970s suburban America. There are five of them, and as the story
begins, Cecilia (Hanna Hall), the youngest of the sisters, has
attempted to take her life by opening up her wrists. On the advice
of the family doctor, the Lisbon's invite the neighborhood boys over
for an afternoon party with the girls. This is when we see the
passing of the first of the Lisbon girls, and when the boys'
fascination with the enigmatic sisters takes hold. Getting to know
the sisters is a different story. Their sheltering, fundamentalist
parents won't let them wear sleeveless shirts outside of the home,
much less go on dates with teenage boys filled with raging hormones.
One boy in particular, Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett) spells
surefire trouble for the girls. Every teacher, high school girl and
their collective mothers has the hots for him. But he's got his eye
on one of the Lisbon sisters, Lux (Kirsten Dunst), and he'll do
anything short of cutting his mop of hair to get her attention and
win her dad's approval so that he can take her to the homecoming
dance. At one point in the story, a grown-up Trip (presumably in a
treatment center) takes on the duty of story narrator and discusses
the effect of the girls on his life, as an adult. The bulk of the
film is told through a collage of stories, gossip and recollections.
It's a risky way to tell the story, but it pays off in the end, and
retains the emotional honesty and strength of the novel.
As effective as the material is, it's aided by a fine set of
performances. James Woods is an actor whose brazen performances
usually come across just as loud as his off-screen personality.
Here, his strong turn as the pandering, overprotective father is so
subdued and reserved that his voice rarely raises above the timber
of a hushed conversation. Kathleen Turner is equally as effective in
her turn as the devoutly religious mother of the Lisbon girls. You
will see no shred of the sexuality of her character in
Body Heat, or the fiery temper
of Barbara Rose in War of the Roses.
Also look for small parts by Michael Pare, Danny DeVito and Scott
Those expecting a film rife with death from beginning to end may be
disappointed with The Virgin Suicides.
Yes, there is death, and yes, as the narrator tells you right at the
beginning of the story, all the Lisbon girls will come to pass. But
this is not a movie about death or suicide. The
Virgin Suicides is as much about youthful obsession as it
is the wistful way we recall it as adults. The story's undefined
narrator (voiced by Giovanni Ribisi) is obviously somebody who knew
the girls, but didn't know them as well as he would have liked.
Nobody really understood the girls that well, and it's the mystery
surrounding them that drew the neighborhood boys toward them. The
boys' desire and the girls' radiance are the driving forces of
The Virgin Suicides. It's an
impressive film, and one that stuck with me after the last reel
On DVD, The Virgin Suicides
presents a nice looking picture. The source print itself is of good
quality, with no scratching or aging marks, as can be expected of a
newer piece of film. The color palette is altered through different
filters to fit the appropriate mood of the scene. A few scenes take
on a greenish look, and other times the filmmakers used natural
lighting for a more realistic feel. The flashback sequences are
drenched in sunlight - the intended effect - and they look fine.
What's not appropriate, however, is the obvious artifacting that
rears its ugly head every now and again. Blacks looks stable and
strong for the most part, but NTSC noise and artifacting makes them
appear a little on the muddy side on a few occasions. It's not too
much of a distraction, but it's there when it shouldn't be. The film
also doesn't quite look as sharp as it could have. I'd say this was
a product of the film stock used, but I don't remember it looking
this soft in the theatres. On the whole, it's a good anamorphic
widescreen picture, but there is definite room for improvement.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is not an overly energetic audio track,
but sound effects, dialogue and music are all used to maximum
effect. The track is subtle and practical, and you'll notice good
separation and panning effects in both the front and rear speakers.
Much of the action in the surround channels is reserved for the
music track. The trancy, synthesized soundtrack (by the French group
Air) enforces the dream-like quality of the movie, and stands out as
the best part of the 5.1 mix. Dialogue is solid and the LFE channel
adds depth to the sound mix. For the French-language inclined,
there's also a decent 2.0 French track.
Paramount didn't set out to make this DVD a special edition, but
the compact set of extras here is nothing to balk at. A few years
back, Ms. Coppola did a sassy little gem of a short called
Lick the Star. I was hoping
that would find its way onto this DVD release, but it didn't. You do
get a featurette on the making of the film, which is remarkably
in-depth for a 25-minute piece. Shot by Sophia's mom Eleanor Coppola
(who received co-direction credit for another brilliant documentary
chronicling the making of a film by a family member,
Hearts of Darkness), it
features interviews with most of the principal cast, as well as the
director and author Jeffrey Eugenides. It's a great companion piece
for the film. Also interesting is Air's music video for their song
Playground Love. It's a
trippy, twisted little piece of video that's narrated by a couple
pieces of lip-synching chewing gum - I'm not kidding. It must be
seen to be believed. There's also a short slide show of
behind-the-scenes pictures taken from the film, that's set to a
selection from the film's score. Top that off with two of the film's
theatrical trailers, and you've got a nice little set of extras.
The Virgin Suicides wasn't a
huge box-office hit. This was due in part to an extremely limited
release schedule, but also to a seemingly heavy subject matter. The
title alone is enough to turn people away, but the old adage is as
true here as it ever was - don't judge a book by its cover.
The Virgin Suicides is also a
sweet memoir of a specific time in American culture and a distinct
period in the lives of young people. Paramount has crafted a real
winner of a DVD, and The Virgin Suicides
is well worth the hunt if you can't find it on the shelf at