The Virgin Suicides: Revisiting Sofia Coppola’s film debut
Sofia Coppola became the second female director in Cannes Film Festival’s long history to win the best director prize. The American director was honored for the southern Gothic drama The Beguiled, thus ending the 56 year old gap that was set by Yuliya Solntseva’s “The Story of the Flaming Years” in 1961.
The Beguiled stars Nicole Kidman, Collin Farrell, Elle Fanning and Coppola’s frequent collaborator Kirsten Dunst. An elaborate period piece drama Based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan, the film gained a lot of praise during this years’ film festival, with IndieWire calling it “the mustiest and most conventionally entertaining film of Coppola’s brilliant career.
It’s six film feature in the career of the 46-year old director (not counting A Very Murray Christmas), and while The Beguiled won’t hit theaters until June 23, let’s take a brief moment and reflect on her debut.
Panned by most film critics for her portrayal of Mary Corleone in her father’s The Godfather Part III, Sofia (and with the exception of her role in Inside Monkey Zetterland) focused mainly on directing in the mid to late 90’s. The shift in careers paid of big time and after directing several movie videos and her short film Lick the Star, in 1999 Sofia presented to the world her fist feature debut. The Virgin Suicides. Since then she’s to become an Academy award winner just like her father- Francis Ford Coppola and one of the most respected female directors of her generations, but it was The Virgin Suicides that started it all.
Some may argue that Lost in Translation is her best work so far, but her debut is nothing short than brilliant as well. Based on the 1993 bestselling debut novel of the same name by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides is a tale of despair, depression and isolation in 70’s America.
Set in 70’s suburban Detroit, the movie was a desperate and tragic cry for help of the 5 Lisbon sisters, tyrannically sheltered by their dominating strict and religious parents. It was an also a tale of group of few friends who saw their ordeal but couldn’t figure out a way to help them before it was too late. The Virgin Suicides also started Sofia’s collaboration with Kirsten Dunst (which is to continue on Marie Antoinette and this year’s The Beguiled) but it brought so much more. Yes Sofia realized the full potential of Dunst talent as she was making her transition of a child actress to and adult, ad capitalized it big time. She also made the most of Josh Hartnett’s sex appeal first seen in the horror classic Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and The Faculty. And while it had seasoned pros like Kathleen Turner and James Woods, the main cast was constructed by the relatively unknown actresses like A. J. Cook and Leslie Hayman. Hanna R. Hall who played Cecilia Lisbon (youngest Lisbon child) was very much like Dunst a child star (her film debut was in Forrest Gump as the young Jenny Curran) and in very brief but interesting role, Danny DeVito can be seen as Dr. E. M. Horniker, Cecilia’s therapist.
But The Virgin Suicides was so much more that a jump start for their careers. It was also and aesthetic master piece, brought on by the cinematography of Edward Lachman, art direction of Jon P. Goulding and the work of Lynette Meyer in the costume department. The movie captured the fuzzy, disheveled but delicate look and the feel of the 70’s beautify. and of course last but i can not forget the killer soundtrack that featured tracks from Air, Bee Gees, Al Green and Carole King.
The Virgin Suicides still to this day, holds 76% on Rotten Tomatoes, but back then A. O. Scott for The New York Times, said in his review:
The movie is most vivid, and most effectively cinematic, when it fights against this cold formalism and tries to tell its story in the present tense. The best moments have an inspired feeling of freedom and playfulness that cuts through the pervasive air of somber self-consciousness.
The Virgin Suicides barely earned back the money from the 6 million dollars budget, but like her latest project (The Beguiled) premiered at the prestigious Cannes film festival, and 18 years after its release still is considered one of Coppola’s finest works. I highly encourage you to revisit it.