Published May 01, 2000There's a voyeuristic narrative device in The Virgin Suicides that divides along gender. On one hand are five sisters whose fate is pretty much spelled out in the title; on the other, are a group of young neighbourhood boys permanently warped, twisted and obsessed with the fate of these sisters (the most prominent of whom is Kirsten Dunst). Even years after the fact, they can't figure out what happened, or why, and after seeing the movie, I'm with them.
The film is oddly uneven, given the material (based on a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides) and subject matter - it starts relatively heavily, with largely unexplained suicide of the youngest daughter - and then percolates along into a relatively by-the-numbers teen romantic comedy. Dunst is a hoot as a rebellious bad girl, but what glimpses we get of her home life (including parents James Woods and Kathleen Turner), there's not much for her to rebel against. Her remaining three sisters are wispy, sparsely written rebels also seemingly lacking a cause, until Dunst finally pushes the boundaries far enough to make the parents sit up and take notice.
This directorial debut by Sophia Coppola is substantially better than her stab at acting (in Godfather III, nuff said), and it's not without its beautiful, even remarkable moments. But what joys there are (an odd, hilarious vignette about the strangest boy in the neighbourhood goes nowhere), there are too many secrets the girls (and by association, Coppola) seem unwilling to tell. I've been told that I "just don't get it," based on my lack of experience actually being a teenaged girl, but if that's the case, they should put up a sign: you must be this much of a girl to see The Virgin Suicides. Perhaps, like those teenaged girls, this film is just misunderstood, but if either of them communicated better, all this could be avoided.